If you're applying to colleges in
Writing a great Common App essay is key if you want to maximize your chances of getting admitted.
Whether you're a student working on your Common App essay, or a parent wondering what it takes, this article will help you master the Common App Essay.
What is the Common App Essay?
As part of the Common Application, students have to write a personal statement essay, also known as the Common App essay.
Your Common App essay is one of the most important application essays you'll write because it is sent to every school on your application.
Your personal statement should be your story or take on the world. It should authentically show your best writing and most interesting ideas.
How Many Common App Essays Are Required?
Only one Common App essay is required per application. You can find your essay on your Common App portal.
The same Common App essay is sent to every school on your Common Application, so make sure it is your best writing before you submit.
How Long Should Your Common App Essay Be?
The Common App essay has a word limit of 650 words maximum. As required by the application, it also must be at least 250 words.
If you're serious about getting into selective colleges, every word of your Common App essay is valuable.
The best Common App essays have a lot to say. That's why you should strive to use almost all 650 words.
Try to say the most using the fewest words. Every word should have a purpose and be irreplaceable.
What are the Common App Essay Prompts for 2022-23?
There are seven prompts for the Common App essay. Remember that the prompts are simply to help get you started thinking.
You don't have to answer any of the prompts directly (see prompt 7).
With that, here are the seven Common App essay questions for 2022:
- Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
- 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. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
Check out the last prompt. It is a catch-all, which means you can submit an essay on any topic you want.
Use the Common App prompts as brainstorming questions and to get you thinking.
But ultimately, you should write about any topic you meaningfully care about.
How to Brainstorm Common App Essay Ideas and Topics
A good Common App essay topic is one you genuinely care about.
Great admissions essays have been written on any topic you can imagine. From a love for (coffee)[#essay-98] to (mountaineering)[#essay-71].
What matters most is that you have something to say, some ideas you want to share.
To come up with ideas for your Common App essay, ask yourself questions like these:
- What do you spend your time doing?
- What is something you could not live without?
- What could you talk about for hours on end?
- What issue matters to you (and what have you done about it)?
- What's the hardest lesson you've had to learn?
- What important truth do very few people agree with you on?
Remember that your initial topic can (and probably will) change over time.
If you're stuck deciding between topics, just choose one and start writing.
In fact, often the best essays are the result of ideas spontaneously generated while writing.
Bad Common App Essay Topics and Examples
While there aren't many rules to follow with your Common App essay, there are some mistakes you want to avoid.
There are some Common App essay topics that can be tricky to write about.
Either because they're cliché or of poor taste, you should think carefully before you write about:
- Trip to foreign land story
- Sports stories
- Stories that flaunt wealth or economic background
- Death of relatives or friends
With these topics, you need to have a unique and sincere approach.
To make things easy, I'd recommend just avoiding these topics all together.
I won't showcase examples of "bad" Commmon App essays, but often they have overused topics like these.
6 Tips for Writing Your Common App Essay
Writing more powerfully doesn't have to be difficult.
If you follow these simple tips, your Common App essay will automatically read more clearly and effectively.
- Write a lot, then edit and cut back
- Don't write formally. It's OK to use "I" and break some common grammar rules
- Paragraph breaks are your friend.
- Write vividly and specifically.
- Don't try to be clever. Be authentic.
- Write what only you could write.
How to Format Your Common App Essay
Often the best Common App essays are the best because they are unlike any others. They are unique in structure, content, or both.
There's only a few things that most Common App essays have in common. The format of your Common App essay should have:
Common App Essay Outline
Your hook is important because it introduces the reader to yourself. But most students overthink their hook.
Your hook doesn't need to be complicated.
Often the best hooks are simple declarative sentences, e.g. "I was 4" or "As a child the world fascinated me."
A common mistake to avoid is using a quote to start your essay. Admissions officers want to hear from you, not someone else.
- Multiple Paragraphs
Your Common App essay is not like an academic essay or piece of formal writing.
So to make your writing more engaging, you should write with rhythm and flow.
Try to avoid "writing like a suburb", or that is, writing many paragraphs of equal lengths.
As a rule of thumb, if you can't summarize each paragraph into one main idea, split into multiple paragraphs.
Remember that it is okay to have a paragraph of only one sentence.
The end of your Common App essay has no rules.
But to help get you started thinking, here's some ideas for the conclusion of your essay.
To write a powerful conclusion to your essay, you can:
- Connect back to the beginning, with a new perspective
- Set up an ending that is shocking, but inevitable once you realize it
- Leave the reader thinking. Don't give all the answers.
How to Start Your Common App Essay
Former admissions officer Rachel Toor writes about clever way to get started writing in her book "Write Your Way In."
After choosing your topic that is meaningful to you, simply follow these two steps:
1. Write a story in the past tense about your topic
Write about a moment or experience related to your chosen topic.
Make sure it has some sort of conflict (character vs. self, character vs. character, etc.).
2. Add the words "What I realize now..."
This phrase will automatically get your brain reflecting.
It will make you think and start to analyze. As thoughts start to come, just start writing.
Don't bother censoring yourself at this point. Just get words on the paper and cut back later.
Does Your Common App Essay Need a Title?
Some successful Common App essays were submitted with a title, but it is absolutely not necessary.
This works because the title is thought-provoking and fitting. The title is also short.
Another essay accepted into Northwestern University was titled "Think Purple: Aspiring journalist dreams of being a Wildcat".
While titles for your Common App essay are not necessary, they can add a little extra if appropriate. But more often than not, its not worth adding a title.
25 Common App Essay Examples
Wondering what it takes to write an exceptional Common App essay? Here are
These students got into top schools and Ivy League colleges in recent years. Check out these Common App essay samples and become inspired.
Table of Contents
- Prompt: Background, Identity, Interest, or Talent
- Prompt: Lessons from Obstacles
- Prompt: Questioned or Challenged a Belief
- 14. Key to Happiness
- Prompt: Accomplishment, Event, or Realization
- Prompt: Engaging Topic, Idea, or Concept
- Prompt: Any Topic of Your Choice
Prompt: Background, Identity, Interest, or Talent
#1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
Common App Essay Example #1: Seeds of Immigration
The three, small, purple seeds sat on the brown soil. Ten feet from me I could see my grandpa with his yunta and donkeys. They were in unison: the two donkeys, the plow, and him. My grandpa commanded; the donkeys obeyed. I began to feel tired. Exhausted. My neck was being pierced by the Mexican sun as I dropped seeds for hours.
I can’t complain; I wanted to do this.
I placed three tiny seeds, imagining the corn stalk growing while the pumpkin vines wrapped around it; both sprouting, trying to bear fruit. I clenched a fistful of dirt and placed it on them. “Más,” my grandpa told me as he quickly flooded the seeds with life-giving dirt.
Covered. Completely trapped.
My grandfather has been doing this ever since he was a little boy. Fifty-five years later and he still works hard on the field. There isn’t much else to in the small town of Temalac, Guerrero. All he could do was adapt; something my parents never did. They sacrificed everything and left their home, never to return again. With no knowledge of what would come tomorrow, with only their clothes on their backs, they immigrated to the US. They had to work on unknown soil, hoping their dedication will help sprout the new seeds they’d soon plant. They did this for me. They wanted me to worry about my education, not if there would be enough rain to satisfy the thirst of the crops.
I have a thirst.
A thirst to be the vessel for my family into a better future. I must be the crop that feeds them. All these thoughts rushed into my soul as I looked back down the aluminum bucket. I could never be a farmer. I’m grateful my parents were.
They planted a seed. A tiny seed with no instructions but to succeed. I’m the first-born son of two immigrant parents. I had a clean sheet to become anything. I could’ve fallen into my town’s influence, joined a gang, and become another statistic. Regardless of the dirt I come from, I began to sprout. Ever since I was eight years old I was entrusted with responsibilities. We were lucky that school was a three-minute walk; yet it was a stressful journey for a child. I had to wake up my brother, give him breakfast, make sure his clothes were ready, and that he was doing well in school.
Growing up, I was always fell behind in school. I had to take summer classes to match my peers’ intellect; while others were reading to learn, I was merely learning to read. My parents weren’t able to teach me English; I grew up solely developing my Spanish accent. My bilingual brain hadn't yet matured and lacked the English tongue. Entrusting a child to be the translator-of-all-matters for his parents robs him of his childhood. I had to help my parents navigate an English system unknown to them. From the day I learned to speak I had to learn to advocate not just for myself, but for my parents.
I’m the type of person my family tree hasn’t seen. Staying in high school, getting good grades, and being a responsible individual are aspects that make people around me think that I have sprouted. But I have not yet bloomed into the being I wish to become. In fact, I have merely tunneled my roots onto the Earth; roots that have been solidified by the determination my parents instilled in me as a child. Nothing I ever accomplished was handed to me. It’s the fact that I have come this far without the advantages other students have that fills me with pride.
Common App Essay Example #2: Color Guard
Sweaty from the hot lights, the feeling of nervousness and excitement return as I take my place on the 30-yard line. For 10 short minutes, everyone is watching me. The first note of the opening song begins, and I’m off. Spinning flags, tossing rifles, and dancing across the football field. Being one of only two people on the colorguard means everyone will see everything. It’s amazing and terrifying. And just like that, the performance is over.
Flashback to almost four years ago, when I walked into the guard room for the first time. I saw flyers for a “dance/flag team” hanging in the bland school hallway, and because I am a dancer, I decided to go. This was not a dance team at all. Spinning flags and being part of the marching band did not sound like how I wanted to spend my free time. After the first day, I considered not going back. But, for some unknown reason, I stayed. And after that, I began to fall in love with color guard. It is such an unknown activity, and maybe that’s part of what captivated me. How could people not know about something so amazing? I learned everything about flags and dancing in that year. And something interesting happened- I noticed my confidence begin to grow. I had never thought I was that good at anything, there was always someone better. However, color guard was something I truly loved, and I was good at it.
The next year, I was thrown into an interesting position. Our current captain quit in the middle of the season, and I was named the new captain of a team of six. At first, this was quite a daunting task. I was only a sophomore, and I was supposed to lead people two years older than me? Someone must’ve really believed in me. Being captain sounded impossible to me at first, but I wouldn’t let that stop me from doing my best. This is where my confidence really shot up. I learned how to be a captain. Of course I was timid at first, but slowly, I began to become a true leader.
The next marching season, it paid off. I choreographed many pieces of our show, and helped teach the other part of my guard, which at the time was only one other person. Having a small guard, we had to be spectacular, especially for band competitions. We ended up winning first place and second place trophies, something that had never been done before at our school, especially for such a small guard. That season is still one of my favorite memories. The grueling hours of learning routines, making changes, and learning how to be a leader finally paid off.
Looking back on it as I exit the field after halftime once again, I am so proud of myself. Not only has color guard helped the band succeed, I’ve also grown. I am now confident in what my skills are. Of course there is always more to be done, but I now I have the confidence to share my ideas, which is something I can’t say I had before color guard. Every Friday night we perform, I think about the growth I’ve made, and I feel on top of the world. That feeling never gets old.
Common App Essay Example #3: Big Eater
"A plate of spaghetti, six pieces of chicken nuggets, a bowl of fish soup, and a plate of French fries covered in chili sauce. And, don't forget the dessert, make it warm chocolate with milk. Oh... I could also use that 500ml lemonade as you process the order please."
The disbelief printed in the face of the waiter as he scribbled my order confirmed to me that he definitely heard me right. I get that look a lot and I kind of got used to it. In fact most of my friends have teased that m...
Common App Essay Example #4: Love for Medicine
“How do you keep going after days like this?” a tear-stricken woman asked me after watching me put all my effort into attempting to resuscitate her husband after he had committed suicide. I‘ve grappled with my answer to her question for many years, but I may finally have one.
I wish I could truthfully say that I have grown accustomed to the catastrophic calls. I wish I could say the weight of the words “I’m sorry for your loss” lessens after saying them countless times to heartbroken families. But that is not the reality.
“Days like this” come often in emergency medicine; people call 911 on the worst day of their lives, when their baby stops breathing or their loved one suddenly collapses. Being one of the youngest medical responders ever certified in Connecticut, I have spent the majority of my adolescence running toward car crashes, flaming buildings, and into ditches while most sane people bolt in the opposite direction. While I am no stranger to cardiac arrest, severed limbs, and failing organs, it isn’t the mutilated patients that stand out in my memory, but the moments when I get a pulse back during CPR, the hugs from grateful family members, and the few, but treasured “thank you’s.”
This steel box that flies down the road at seventy miles per hour is where I grew up, where I fell in love with emergency medicine. It was a whole new world of insatiable curiosity and gut-wrenching adrenaline; where I became fascinated by the actions of Nitroglycerin, mesmerized by watching an IV drilled inside bone marrow, and captivated by the reversal of heroin overdoses. It exposed me to life in its rawest forms. Nothing says “always wear your seatbelt” like seeing a child trying to wake up her dad after he flew through the windshield; nothing shows the true depths of mental illness like responding to a teenager’s fifth attempt on her life. Every patient, every unique and precious life, presents a new puzzle—a new person to heal.
I never knew I had the courage to talk a suicidal sixteen-year-old boy down from the edge of a bridge, knowing that he could jump and take his life at any moment.
I never knew I had the strength to hold the hand of a dying man encased in the wreckage of his car while he spoke his last words to me.
I never knew I had the confidence to stand my ground and defend my treatment plan to those who saw me as less than capable because of my age or gender.
The emergency services brought me to places that I never could have imagined and introduced me to patients and people who broadened my worldview. I found myself in frigid rivers pulling unresponsive people into boats and laughing at the incredible sense of humor of a homeless man. It didn’t matter where people came from or who they were when they were on my stretcher, socioeconomic status and labels fell away. Whether I was performing CPR or helping a frail old woman off her kitchen floor, I knew I was changing a stranger’s life even if all I could offer was a hand to hold.
I have an innate passion to heal. I am continuously enthralled by the complexity and endless beauty of the human body and I could spend my whole life studying it, but I will only scrape the surface of its wonders. I could engineer cells to produce missing proteins; I could grow stem cell hearts, livers, and kidneys; I could create tumor destroying medications; I can heal people one person at a time until I help eliminate the word ‘incurable’ from the dictionary. I answer that catastrophic call day after day because to love medicine is to love humanity and no one has ever really lived until they have done something for someone who can never repay them.
Common App Essay Example #5: Cultural Confusion
An obnoxiously red banner with Chinese characters hangs in front of a small, unassuming diner close to home. I stroll inside Grand Lake, this bustling hive with waitresses scuttling hurriedly and tables shaking lightly, the din of laughter from families mixing with the aromas of Chinese food. A lady with a notepad impatiently beckons my family to sit at one of the free tables, and as soon as we’re all settled in, she begins addressing me in Mandarin - possibly asking what I wanted for a drink. I look at her blankly, and she returns the confused expression. “I don’t speak Chinese,” I laugh forcibly after a tense moment. She doesn’t find the humor in my apology. From thereafter, our order is taken in broken English, our chopsticks switched out for the standard fork and knife, and I feel the burning gaze of the waitresses judging my family as we eat our Sunday brunch in silence.
Cultural confusion is commonplace. Being born in Peru and raised in Venezuela makes no difference in how most people see and treat us. Focusing on my slanted, almond eyes and ebony hair, I’m automatically pegged as an Asian wherever I go. Touring Peruvian artisan markets is always a test of wit and cleverness, as vendors try to over-price items we’re interested in simply because we look Asian, and therefore must also have Crazy Rich Asian bank accounts. Pulling out a simple credit card at a Caracas mall once got us chased by three armed motorcyclists on the highway, and my mother risked collision as she wove in and out of the cramped lanes like a Formula One race car driver. Since when did my appearance jeopardize my life?
My ancestry traces back to both Chinese and Japanese roots, its imprint burrowed deep in my face and DNA. But I’m a third generation, Peruvian-born girl with the fire to prove it. Over time, our Asian culture diluted and was replaced with a vibrant, Latino lifestyle. With each generation, the immigrant language faded, folktales blurred, spices dulled, and all things Asian abandoned. I celebrated Noche Buena as a kid, not Chinese New Year’s. My favorite childhood dishes were anticuchos and papa huancaína, not onigiri rice balls or sushi rolls. Everyone assumes that I am a math prodigy, shy and antisocial, a black belt karate master, and a laughingstock on the dance floor. But actually, I struggle hardest in my math class, studying twice as much as others for the same grade. My personality, although sweet, is bold and gregarious. I am a three-year kickboxer and a five-year Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitor. Turn on Marc Anthony and I may just get a spot on So You Think You Can Dance. I’m Latina, just packed in a cute, little Bento box.
There is one Asian stereotype that I fit into, even though its backstory is completely misguided: playing the piano. In reality, piano musician culture was not developed in any Asian region, rather in European countries with pioneers such as Bach and Haydn. Statistically, there is an equal amount of Asian and non-Asian musicians in the professional world. I came across the piano through my own curiosity and will, not through my parents bludgeoning me to play it like it’s portrayed with all young Asians. I actually studied South American music for an international piano competition in Peru, finished as a finalist, and grew to love the radiant and eccentric style of Latino modern music. But I digress-- my potential should be evaluated separately from my appearance.
I am a musician born by passion, not by race. I am a human defined by my achievements and experiences, not physical assumptions. Leave your preconceptions by the welcome mat and size me up by the sound of my Rachmaninoff sonata or Enrique Iturriaga solos, and let my character sing your first and final impressions of me.
Common App Essay Example #6: Football Manager
When I watched the Patriots and Falcons play in the Super Bowl in February of 2017, I had no idea that the next time I watched a football game I would be on the sidelines, right in the middle of all the action. However, that’s exactly what happened, and my experience as a football manager is not one that I will ever forget.
At the end of my junior year, the head football coach, Coach Cotter (who was also my AP Government teacher), asked me if I wanted to be a manager for the football t...
Common App Essay Example #7: Coffee
I was 4.
Blue blanket in one hand, cookie monster in the other, I stumbled down the steps to fill my sippy cup with coffee. My diplomatic self gulped down his caffeine while admiring his Harry Potter wands. My father and I watched the sunrise through the trees and windows. I cherished this small moment before my father left, disappearing in and out of my life at the wave of a wand, harassing my seemingly broken, but nevertheless, stronger, family.
I was 10, and my relationship with coffee flourished as my father vanished. I admired the average, yet complex beverage and may have been the only ten-year-old to ask for a French-press for his birthday. Nonetheless, learning to craft intricate cups of coffee became my favorite pastime. I spent hours studying how to “bloom” the grounds in a Chemex or pour a swan. Each holiday, I would ask for an aeropress, an espresso machine. I became a coffee connoisseur, infinitely perfecting my own form of art.
As the years went by--I was 11, 12, 13--I began to explore the cafes in Pittsburgh with my grandmother, capturing them through our shared love for photography. Coffee (one of the few positive memories I have of my father) is also the bridge that allows my grandmother and I to converge our distinctly different backgrounds into one harmonious relationship. Inside quaint coffee shops, we would discuss pop culture, fashion, and the meaning of life. We made it our mission to visit every cafe and document them not only through the camera lens, but also through the conversations we shared.
I was 16 years old, and working at a family-owned coffee shop training other employees to pour latte art. Making coffee became an artistic outlet that I never had before. I always loved math, but once I explored the complexities of coffee, I began to delve into a more creative realm--photography and writing--and exposed myself to the arts--something foreign and intriguing.
When my father left and my world exploded, coffee remained a light amongst the darkness. As the steam permeates my nostrils and the bitterness tickles my tongue, I learn a little more about myself. The act of pouring water over grounds allows me to slow down time for a moment, and reflect upon my day, my life, my dreams, and my future. When I dive into a morning cup, I take a plunge into the sea of the self, and as I sip, am struck with the feeling that coffee is a universal link between cultures. I picture my great grandmother sitting on her front porch in Rome, slurping LaVazza and eating her coffee-soaked biscotti. Every cup takes me back to my heritage, forces me to reflect upon where I came from and where I must go, and who else, in another world, is sipping the same drink and reflecting upon the same principles. You see, coffee is like the ocean. It bridges two culture, two lands, two brains, all through conversation, exposure, exploration, but by one medium. I do not see it as simply a beverage, but rather, a vehicle for so much more.
At 18, coffee is a part of who I am--humble, yet important, simple, yet complex, and rudimentary, yet developed. As I explore new coffee shops, I explore a new part of myself, one once hidden beneath the surface of my persona. My grandmother and I--we are conquistadors of the cafe scene, conquering the world one coffee shop at a time and, in the process, growing endlessly closer to each other and ourselves. Coffee has allowed our relationship to flourish into a perpetual story of exploration and self-reflection.
Now, I often think about my father and how someone whom I resent so much could have introduced me to something I love so much. It is crazy to think that it took losing him for me to find my true self.
Common App Essay Example #8: Chicago
Chubby fingers outstretched and round cheeks flattened against the window, I leaned further into the plexiglass. Although I could feel a firm hand tugging at my shirt, urging me to sit back in my seat - at ten, I possessed little concept of manners (or sanitary awareness), both of which I abandoned as I refused to cease standing on the chair of the CTA train - at the moment, all that mattered was that I was soaring above the streets of Chicago. Eyes darting across the ever changing expanses of the city, I refused to lift my gaze in fear of missing anything.
For the first time, I was taking a trip in the belly of a gargantuan silver beast, known familiarly to most Chicagoans as the “L.” What distinguishes the L from its relatives - the Tube, le Métro, the MTA - is its ability to burst through concrete and asphalt streets to rise above, guided only by wood and steel, and glide through the towering skyscrapers that dot the Chicago skyline. It elevates and cultivates a sense of infinite wonder in its riders, from the all-too-serious businessmen I’ve caught gazing dreamily out the windows to the young children futilely yet passionately attempting to balance in the center of the car as the train weaves throughout the city. From that first ride to the present day, my fascination with the inner and outer workings of the L and its passengers has refined itself to an infatuation.
Each ride presents a chance to ponder the overlooked, to question the seemingly mundane: You can quantify the number of people that find themselves teeming through the L’s sliding doors, but can you quantify their experiences? Who is that woman, man, student, small rodent, and what is their story? I adopt the lenses of journalists, economists, marketers, sociologists, historians, and the mere fellow passenger to analyze: the placement of an ad for Planet Fitness adjacent to an ad for Pizza Hut, the change in the racial makeup of passengers as the train travels North to South, the origin of unassuming stains or abandoned books. More recently I pondered, if they say the beat of a butterfly’s wings can induce a hurricane halfway across the world, can a five minute train delay get me into college?
The L is a catalyst between my vim mind and the seemingly elusive outer world, a seventy-five cent silver chariot that I can ride to whatever adventure I see fit. Since that first ride, I persist in search of the optimal collection of train stops, forging a mental map of Chicago shaped by my life experiences - all accessible by a simple swipe of a ventra card. The multitude of train lines that branch from the L’s “Loop” are dotted with my discoveries. The boathouse, where I strain my vocal chords from hours of training (and hours of laughing with my teammates).
The school, where I test the waters of political responsibility, explore the depths of socioeconomic research, and conquer the wakes of edits delivered on my reporting for the newspaper. The small urban farm, located in a former project, that I help create and cultivate each spring and summer.
My thirst and and hunger for the knowledge of anything and everything was, and remains, insatiable. This train, this beating artery, pumping from the birthplace of the city to its outer reaches, is what quenches my thirst and satiates my hunger. Riding the L not only gave me the access to pursue rowing, a liberal education, and volunteerism; it forged a sense of adventurousness deep into the synapses of my nerves, a sense driving me into the intersections of journalism, student government, fashion, and aiding my beautiful city. That first L ride instilled the interests that lie within me, passions that subsist on experiencing life at its fullest and engaging my sponge-like intellectuality. I thrive on discovery; It defines who I am.
Prompt: Lessons from Obstacles
#2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
Common App Essay Example #9: Mountaineering
The night before I climb to the summit, I pack my bag carefully, making sure all my equipment is in its rightful place. Headlamp in the left pocket. Clif Bar (nauseating but necessary) next to my sleeping bag. Three unlocked carabiners on my harness. Extra layers, ropes, and ice axes diligently packed away. After a few hours of sleep, I wake up under the midnight moon, my brain foggy in the high altitude and grateful for the extra preparation.
Although I would love to say this sense of organization comes naturally, it only became habit after my first major mountaineering expedition. The summer after freshman year, I flew to Washington to climb Mt. Adams, a lofty 12,000-foot peak in the shadow of Rainier. My backpacking, rock climbing, and skiing experience gave me the technical skills I would need for mountaineering, which is essentially a combination of those three sports. But physical skills alone could not compensate for the logistical skills I lacked. Just twenty minutes before starting the climb, I scrambled to pack under the faint beam of my headlamp. My one a.m. brain betrayed me; I left all my food at base camp. I climbed as far as I could, but had to descend to camp before long. It was not safe for me to continue on without food.
This anecdote was not unique to one summit attempt, or the outdoors in general. In middle school, I constantly neglected to make flashcards and write down homework, and my grades, though good, suffered as a result. I left behind a trail of forgotten ski coats and misplaced textbooks, and few were surprised when parent-teacher conferences revolved around the word ‘careless’. But after that failed summit attempt, I created organizational systems for every subsequent kayaking, hiking, and mountaineering trip, and began to apply them beyond the trailhead. While high school isn’t exactly comparable to climbing mountains, I pack my backpack the night before, make flashcards weeks before tests, and always stash extra snacks for cross country. The preparation steals a few precious minutes of sleep, but in return, means honors societies and academic excellence.
These processes have led to academic success, but weren’t without flaw. I spent hours preparing for each challenge, and in return expected an A on every test and a successful summit of each mountain. I felt that the outcome should be in exact proportion to my effort. I failed to recognize that I can’t control every variable. Heading into a difficult summit attempt of Mount Olympus, the tallest peak in Washington’s Olympic Range, I was certain it would go my way. I was in great shape, had practiced all my knots and rope skills, and, of course, had packed the night before. Despite it being the most difficult mountain, I had attempted, I thought that due to the work I had put in, it was my right to summit. I was wrong.
The glacier leading up to the summit was calving, or shedding ice, too quickly. These glacial avalanches would be deadly, there was no other way to the summit, and it was totally out of my control. I was devastated. We ate Snickers, normally enjoyed on the summit, on the glacier staring up at the peak. Below our feet, swimming through the glacial crevasses, were ice worms: tiny, endemic invertebrates. I transformed my disappointment into an opportunity to slow down and research glaciers and their tiny microorganisms. Looking back, I’m not upset I didn’t summit. I learned about ice worms and watermelon snow algae, but more importantly that while I can’t control every outcome, I can always control my attitude. I won’t reach the peak of every mountain, ace every test, or win every cross-country race, no matter how hard I prepare. But I can do my best, enjoy the process, and embrace the outcome, even if it’s not exactly what I expected.
Common App Essay Example #10: Boarding School
I began attending boarding school aged nine.
Obviously, this is not particularly unusual – my school dorms were comprised of boys and girls in the same position as me. However, for me it was difficult – or perhaps it was for all of us; I don’t know. We certainly never discussed it.
I felt utterly alone, as though my family had abruptly withdrawn the love and support thatI so desperately needed. At first, I did try to open up to them during weekly phone calls, but what could they...
Common App Essay Example #11: My Father
One in three victims of a heart attack don’t show any symptoms before it happens. Ninety-five percent of cardiac arrests that occur outside a hospital are fatal. These are not merely statistics. A heart attack redefined my life on November 21st, 2015.
It was a warm autumn morning, and I was raking leaves with my Boy Scout Troop to fundraise for our high adventure patrol’s 50-mile hike to summit Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. I had left my house on my bike early, without telling my mom—she was asleep, and my dad was at work.
About an hour into raking, I saw my mother park nearby, and braced myself for a lecture about how my absence had freaked her out. No part of me imagined why she was actually there. Two words, delivered with the force of a Mack truck, “Dad died.” That morning on his routine break, his cardiac arteries became terminally obstructed. A heart attack and subsequent cardiac arrest ensued. That was it. No goodbye, no I love you, none of that.
From there, my mind spiraled downward into an emotional void. I began to question my entire life—and how my father played into it. What did I last say to him? Did he know how much I loved him? I wanted to pinch myself and end the nightmare. But no, it was real life. In the subsequent weeks, there was no clarity or closure. The path I was travelling on was engulfed by thick fog. I questioned everything about life as I knew it: why do bad things happen to good people?—what does life mean?—how can I move forward?—how can the universe be so cruel? Three years later, I’m still searching for answers.
My father was wise, reserved, hardworking, and above all, caring. I idolized his humility and pragmatism, and I cherish it today. But after his death, I was emotionally raw. I could barely get through class without staving off a breakdown.
Looking at my reflection in my dresser mirror one afternoon, I was examining my bloodshot, teary eyes when I noticed an old sticker of a black and white eye. When I was ten or eleven, I had gotten into trouble for playing video games too much, cursing, or some other youthful infraction. I was in my room as punishment after being scolded, when my dad came in. He placed this simple sticker on the mirror, and said, “Just remember, I’m always watching over you, no matter where I am.” When this happened, I knew he was being contextual about making sure I didn’t misbehave—but after his death, it seemed so omniscient and transcendental. When I look at that sticker, I know he’s with me.
One of my dad’s favorite adages was, “If you really think you’re doing your best—and it’s still not enough—make your best better.” When he would scold me about my grades, I always thought he was just being a “stickler,” demanding perfection. I know now that he was just encouraging me to do and be my best. His words have become my credo. During the entire year after his death, there were more than a few “firsts without dad”—first Christmas, first birthday, first Father’s Day, but also the first time I truly motivated myself. I think of my dad often, but never more than when I am pushing myself to succeed.
One in three victims are unaware they’re about to have a heart attack? Ninety five percent of cardiac arrest victims die? These statistics are just not good enough for me. As my dad would say, it’s time to make our best better to combat heart disease. My father is more than a statistic. His wisdom lives within me. When I face life’s obstacles, I know I can conquer them with him on my side.
Common App Essay Example #12: DMV Trials
Seatbelt on. Mirrors adjusted. Key in the ignition. I am ready to roll. I am sitting in the parking lot of a DMV with a small Hispanic lady with overly drawn-on eyebrows in the passenger seat. In her hands, she holds a beige clipboard and a pen that looks as though it has been half-eaten by some underfed pomeranian. Oh wait, it’s not the pomeranian, it’s her. She is now gnawing on her pen. Oh gosh, Emily don’t focus on that; focus on how you’re going to pull out of this parking lot. I am panting heavily. All of the sweat that was once flowing from my body is now on the steering wheel. B
reath, Emily, breath. I drive to the exit and face a four-lane roadway. “Turn left,” my passenger says.
“Okay,” I mutter back. I can do this. I can totally do this. I am Emily Somé for goodness sake. The Emily Somé who is president of student council, who is ranked first in her class, who has never seen a letter grade less than a B plus in her life. Failure is not in my vocabulary; it never has been, and it never will be. I proceed in driving. “Stop!” Oh no. I look to my right to see the examiner grip the ceiling handle with all her might; her eyes simulate the expression her penciled-on eyebrows were portraying all along. I am in the middle of the roadway; cars are heading towards me in all directions. At that moment, I know I failed.
March 25, 2017, is a day that will live in infamy. The day I experienced failure. Unaccepting of my loss, I blamed my driving incompetence on my mother’s Chrysler minivan, which had what I liked to call “touchy brakes.” My father was good at agreeing with me, adding on with “it’s too foggy out” and “maybe you’re wearing the wrong shoes.” Assigning responsibility for my ineptitude to a pair of sneakers was far easier than admitting that I just wasn’t good at driving. So, with my ego still at large, I decided to take the driver’s test again the following weekend.
April 1, 2017, is another day that will live in infamy. The day I experienced failure for the second time. I failed my road test again, but not for the same reason as before. This time I actually made it out of the parking lot. However, I did in fact run over a curb and blow a stop sign. I didn’t receive as much sympathy as I did for my earlier attempt. It wasn’t the car nor the shoes this time. It was me. I failed my driver’s test all on my own. Now, any normal, rational human being would probably call this “not a big deal,” but to my high-strung sixteen-year old-self, it was a big deal. How could I have failed something that ninety percent of my class mastered on their first try?
My entire life, I had been accustomed to excelling in whatever I did. Whether it was in school work or extracurriculars, my life ran on a simple input-output system. I would put the hard work in and out would come immediate success.
On July 29, 2017, I finally got my license. After the April debacle, I practiced driving almost every week. I learned to stop at stop signs and look both ways before crossing streets, the things I apparently didn’t know how to do during my first two tests. When pulling into the parking lot with the examiner for the last time, a wave of relief washed over me.
“Third time’s the charm,” the lazy-eyed instructor told me. I was ecstatic! For the first time in my life, I was licensed in driving as well as licensed in resilience. My experiences at the DMV taught me that failure is inevitable and essential to moving forward. As I peer down the long road ahead, I am no longer afraid to conquer any bump in my path.
Common App Essay Example #13: Ice Cream Fridays
“Ice cream Fridays!” “Two hours of recess!” 500 middle schoolers stood and cheered, pounding their feet on the bleachers. Declan was the popular star quarterback and my opponent for school president. He looked like an adult in a tailored suit, gesturing with his hands, never checking his notes, casting looks at the girls sitting in the front row. He had long wavy hair, a smooth complexion, and charisma. I sat in my polyester blue blazer and rumpled khakis. I was becoming more emasculated and filled with self-doubt with each chant.
I had the best platform ideas and my aunt helped paint two dozen campaign posters. The year before, I carried the weight in student council while Declan skipped half our meetings. I was sure I could win. I clomped to the mic in my dad’s dress shoes. I read my long speech from my notes without enthusiasm. My only applause came from a couple of friends who felt bad for me.
Later, in high school, math and programming made sense to me — people didn’t. At a Model UN meeting, confident upperclassmen talked about the power of persuasion and public speaking. I felt like I didn’t belong, but their command of the stage made me want to be a part of it. At my first conference, representing Brazil’s humanitarian policies, I had developed what I thought was a brilliant proposal. I was confident and was the first to raise my placard. I had so many ideas but when I took the mic, I didn’t know where to start. I rambled on about background and never got to my main points. I felt foolish for thinking I was going to be so effective. My highwater pants and my sleeves hanging over my fingers added to my insecurity.
I continued this pattern of my speaking skills not matching my confidence in the quality of my ideas. To compensate, I increased the intensity of my preparation. I’d fill a binder with hundreds of research documents, I immersed myself in my roles. I mistakenly assumed that good ideas alone would be enough to win. At one conference, two delegates asked me to join their bloc to get access to my ideas with no intention of giving me a meaningful role. They saw me purely as a policy wonk.
My fascination with geopolitical and economic issues were what kept me committed to MUN. But by the end of sophomore year, the co-presidents were fed up. “Henry, we know how hard you try, but there are only so many spots for each conference...” said one. “You’re wasting space, you should quit,” said the other.
Nevertheless, I persisted. My junior year I ran for club secretary. Automating attendance and quantitative projects were my inclination. But members saw me as a younger, less intimidating officer, and started coming to me for guidance. When Gabby, a freshman, came to me for advice, I tried to pass her off to the co-presidents. She was terrified of speaking at conferences, and I didn’t know how to express my empathy. “They aren’t going to take me seriously, I don’t have charisma, I’m too short!” I saw my own insecurities in her. I didn’t feel like I was qualified to help, but I reminded her of the passion she had shown in meetings. Gradually, I became a mentor to her and many others. I was enjoying supporting them and was gratified by guiding their growth as delegates. One sophomore even anointed me “MUN soccer mom.”
On the bus to her first conference, Gabby was in a panic, but throughout the day I saw her confidence grow. When she won Outstanding Delegate, beyond anyone’s expectations, our whole row erupted in wild cheers. When my name was also called shortly after, it felt anticlimactic. I was far more proud of succeeding in my new role as a mentor than I was of my own award.
Prompt: Questioned or Challenged a Belief
#3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
Common App Essay Example #14: Key to Happiness
If you are not the first, you are one of the rest. I always thought this was the key to happiness. Even when I was an infant, my mom used to say that I chose the people who could carry me. There were only two people: my mom and my sister, not even my dad.
Growing up, I always wanted to be the best in everything. And I was for the most part. I have a bunch of certificates: first in elocution competition, debates, patriotic song competitions, fancy dress, story narration, top 1% in the M...
Prompt: Accomplishment, Event, or Realization
#5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
Common App Essay Example #15: Discovering Passion
"If I'll have to be around the old people, I'm not working there. I just don't feel comfortable around them. I mean, I can't even understand what they're saying half the time!"
Dismissively, I rejected my father's nagging proposal that I apply for a summer job at a local long-term care center, arguing that I'd lose my patience much too quickly in attempting to interact with elderly residents. However, with my father being, well, my father, I reluctantly filled out a job application, reluctantly attended an interview, and, 5 days later, reluctantly commuted to an orientation for my position as a 'resident partner'. Although I initially viewed the job as a prison sentence which I had been condemned to serve for 8 hours per day, the care center would eventually come to serve as a clarion call, challenging each and every preconceived notion I held in regards to a globally misunderstood population, and by extension facilitate the development of a more socially conscious personal character.
From the moment I stepped foot in the care center that would soon become a home-away-from-home for the length of my summer, the entirety of my perspective concerning senior citizens was entirely turned upon its head. These elderly persons were nothing near the stereotypical portrayals of the generational group which I had taken at face value and had accepted to be unalterably true; these individuals appeared to be exactly that: individuals. These individuals laughed as if no-one were watching, grinning from ear to ear. These individuals wore expressions of abandonment, fighting against tears of sorrow. These individuals engaged in enthusiastic conversation with acquaintances, recounting the latest achievement of a granddaughter. These individuals engaged in solitary introspection, attempting (albeit unsuccessfully) to piece together distant memories of a late wife. Where I had inserted my simplistic view of senior citizens as a static monolith, these individuals showcased a mosaic of human emotion, destroying the ideological box I had structured around their collective identity.
Nonetheless, while the past notions which I had nurtured were quickly deprived of their vitality as a direct consequence of the myriad behaviors exhibited by the care center's residents, I developed a more comprehensive and impactful understanding of the elderly population through my interactions with residents suffering from neural afflictions, namely a frail, endearing woman named Constance.
Resultant of the frequency with which Constance and her wheelchair seemed to bump into me, it happened that a friendship blossomed between she and I. Revealing to me one afternoon that she had endured a stroke decades ago, Constance passively lamented the implications of such an experience, among which existed a speech impediment compromising the ease with which she could engage in conversation. For some odd reason or another, this confession served as a catalyst, utterly decimating any remnant of my elementary view in regards to this social demographic. Perhaps owing to the intimate nature of such a statement, or perhaps owing to the period of introspection such a statement encouraged within me, Constance's words facilitated a realization of the depth of the innumerably varied experiences undergone by senior citizens. Not only did Constance demonstrate to me the dynamic, rounded character of elderly individuals; Constance unwittingly offered me a glimpse into the unfortunate reality that neural diseases are deeply misunderstood, resulting in the reduction of afflicted persons to the definition and symptoms of their disease.
Armed with a newfound awareness of the subtle dehumanization suffered by those found in circumstances mirroring Constance's, my interest in the function and coordination of the brain and its activity was magnified. Moreover, my tentative decision to pursue a career in neurology—in order to reduce the marginalization of elderly individuals by means of amplifying general knowledge concerning neurological diseases—was solidified.
Regardless of whether this aspiration comes to pass, or I head down a different path, it will remain true that I left my summer job with so much more than a paycheck.
Common App Essay Example #16: "Girl Things"
A cow gave birth and I watched. Staring from the window of our stopped car, I experienced two beginnings that day: the small bovine life and my future. Both emerged when I was only 10 years old and cruising along the twisting roads of rural Maryland. While my country-bound aunt and cousin were barely phased, the scene struck my young and sheltered eyes. Along with a whirlwind of emotions, the unrestrained act of parturition triggered a feeling of warmth I will never forget.
Years later I learned in biology that all women are biologically nurturing, physically and emotionally. What did that mean? At that point in my life, I could truly make no connection. My idea of femininity was locked in what society had shown me thus far. Femininity was wearing dresses, applying makeup, cheerleading, and giggling near the most popular jock in the entire middle school. In other words, things I did not exactly partake in.
But as I sat in the classroom, I didn’t think about my gender or how I relate to what society considers to be female. Rather, the discussion brought me back to that hot car, parked in front of that special birthing cow. I witnessed the essence of biological femininity as that cow radiated love and affection to her calf immediately after his arrival into the world. The cow represented the epitome of femininity: nurturement and selflessness.
As I have considered the idea of “biological femininity”, I have for years questioned how I fit in with that term. Admittedly, I stray far from the stereotypical female. However, according to developmental neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and studies of sex-based cognitive differences, I am empathetic and intuitive, and prefer language over logic— and that was all I needed. Through the birth of a calf, I realized that I did not need to be interested in “girl things” to be a girl. I did not need a characterized maternal figure to show me how to be a young lady. I certainly did not need a man to tell me how to be a woman. The qualities I possess internally give me all the femininity I need to be a female. There was no definition beyond that, nothing society could paint. That, I believed, was absolutely beautiful.
The future is female. Now that I am beginning to understand the fluidity of femininity, hearing those words empowers me. There are endless ways to live the female experience, no one experience more valid than another. Creativity, intuition, kindness, and love are the roots of femininity, while whatever blooms is up to the individual. With my roots firmly planted, I only need the opportunity to grow to create my future.
When I began thinking of a future field of study and career, I didn’t hesitate; I knew I wanted to work with women. After my struggle with femininity, nothing else intrigued me more. The birth of the cow seven years ago was my inciting incident. My story must include the love, warmth, and beauty of that day. To be a part of the birth story of others entering this world and to study the life and love that preceded is my goal. Eventually, through whatever it takes, I will become an OB/GYN so I can work with women daily, helping teenagers through puberty and educating on sexuality, supporting women through their personal challenges, and assisting in the life-changing act of childbirth. I am dedicated to the future of women.
A cow gave birth and I watched. That experience helped me to become the powerful, strong-minded, and passionate young woman I am today. In pursuing a doctorate I hope to encourage and guide other women to be their own best self and show through my actions and story that there is no one version of womanhood that is “right”, perhaps influencing a new generation.
Common App Essay Example #17: Robotics
My drooping eyes fluttered, biding time before my inevitable descent into a well-deserved slumber. My hand scratched on with determination as I reflected on the past VEX robotics season in my engineering notebook. As I penned my final entry, the once heavy strokes of ink regressed into nothingness, and the cartridge breathed its last, one final victim of my notebook. With an internal salute, I disposed of the pen and retrieved another to finish my reflection. When finally content with my writ...
Common App Essay Example #18: Lab Research
I remove the latex gloves from my hands. I oscillate between looking at the rats enclosed in the acoustic startle chambers to my right, and my team project advisor to my left. A silver lab table, cluttered with syringes, vials, and countless notes, separates me and him. A lab rat’s cage sits at the center like a cornucopia. I begin to sit on a cold lab stool, and upon confirming that the Startle Reflex software is indeed running, I settle into my seat. Though the atmosphere smells faintly of urine, I am comfortable.
These lazy afternoons collecting data defined my experience at the Governor’s School in the Sciences. Our team would spend hours with the acoustic startle chambers, startling rats in the presence of anxiogenic pheromones from other rodent urine in order to evaluate their altered behavioral responses — freezing, excessive grooming, urination, that sort of thing. Turns out, scaring rats enough to pee their pants takes a long time.
My team project advisor, Zach, made these long hours, not only bearable, but pivotal in my understanding of the applied sciences. Zach was the youngest counselor at GSS and was definitely the easiest to talk to. He would always entertain me and my peers with tales of his college club’s calls for divestment in the fossil fuel industry. He relayed to us an inspiring tale: one day, while completing some organic chemistry assignment, Zach felt the commanding urge to start a protest. Against the backdrop of the divisive presidential election of 2016, Zach felt increasingly frustrated by a general feeling of listlessness amid a rapidly transforming world. He eventually found environmental activism, drawing on his scientific background, as a vehicle to make tangible change in the global landscape. And while Zach’s angsty musings were easy to tease, always ornamented with quintessential frat-boy idiosyncrasies, like the overuse of the words “bro” and “yo,” they forced me to consider my own passions in the context of scientific inquiry. Zach, motivated by the pregnant intersection between environmental science and civic engagement, oriented my own career goals in a very profound way.
Prior to GSS, I had always found myself trying to mediate between my interests in public policy and science, from obsessively reading about America’s diplomatic relations to Middle East, to madly teaching myself about the neuroscientific underpinnings of behavior. Zach’s endeavors, his involvement in activism while studying science, revealed an entire sphere between two worlds where my own passions in both could finally coincide. The fruitful conversations I had with Zach demanded that I consider the pragmatic applications of the research we were doing, engaging with the real world in the same manner he had.
Researching chemical signaling in rodents was an exploration of the social transmission of fear in humans — a study with numerous political applications, especially in today’s age of demagogic political rhetoric. Indeed, a rat gaining awareness of a fearful situation is analogous to a human’s awareness of a fearful situation; hysteria in large groups has often lent to social chaos, falling victim to the same conspecific negotiations as in our rodent study. Application of our study in a political context made me realize that my interests are interwoven, though kaleidoscopic.
At GSS, whether it be in the lectures I listened to or the labs I did, my professors borrowed ideas from all fields alike; political implications arising in neuroscientific research, cultural anthropology in human evolution — even philosophical inquiries appeared in courses on special relativity. I loved every academic excursion onto these intellectual, peripheral avenues, as they always contextualized science in a broader sense. This interdisciplinary way of thinking is where I have found my passions to reside, inspired by Zach’s ruminations on activism amid a place of such intellectual vitality; I know this is, not only where complex solutions to the world's problems reside, but where my future does too.
Common App Essay Example #19: Carioca Dance
Watching my coach demonstrate the drill, it seemed so simple. But when I tried to do the Carioca drill (it sounds like “karaoke”, but doesn’t involve wailing into a microphone - it’s more like shuffling sideways while doing the Irish jig), everything fell apart.
Left foot back, right foot in front, left foot...where does it go again? Too late, I realized - I tripped over my feet and fell flat on my face as my teammates started laughing. “Saad, let’s see you dance again!” my teammate called out to me as we got ready to repeat the drill on the way back.
Everyone grinned and watched in anticipation. I swallowed my pride and tried to Carioca in the other direction and stumbled yet again, as my teammates continued to laugh. “There’s no way I’m going to be able to do this drill”, I thought to myself.
As the practices wore on, the drill changed. Instead of being called Cariocas, the drills were now named after me - “Saads”. Pretty ironic, right? At the start of every practice, I would try the Carioca like everybody else and miserably fail. I would stumble, or trip, or, worse, I would end up doing a full frontal.
In order to avoid embarrassment, I began doing the drills as fast as possible. My “diving in head first” approach (literally and figuratively) definitely wasn’t working. Then at the start of the new season, I tried something different. As everyone quickly did the Carioca across the field, I slowly put each foot in front of the next. It was painstakingly slow, and everyone laughed as I practically crawled across the field. I began doing this every practice. It was a painful process - everyone laughed day after day as I tried to slowly work on perfecting Cariocas. With each practice, I got better. I gradually began stumbling over my own feet less. Until one day, I was doing them at full speed.
I’ve become more flexible and quicker on my feet now that I can do Cariocas and not just physically. Presentations used to be my least favorite part of a class - I remember the feeling of dread as I would prepare to present in front of a crowd. Like the Cariocas that were causing me to stumble on the field, I would try to rush through presentations as fast as possible in order to “get it over with”. It was like the pattern of the Cariocas, but instead of my feet, it was my mouth that made me afraid I would look clumsy. Like the Cariocas, avoiding or rushing through the problem wasn’t helping me. Instead, I practiced talking in front of stuffed animals, then in front of the mirror, and before I knew it, I was giving a presentation at a Future Business Leaders of America conference in front of judges who gave me great reviews.
Other places off of the lacrosse field, I found myself stumbling there also – interacting with customers at Kohl’s or with patients at the hospital. Instead of tripping over my feet with customers, now working at Kohl’s I find myself being able to connect and assist customers much better – something that seemed so easy to do, but I always tried to rush through because of my fear of embarrassment. I had become a robot programmed to ask how someone's day was, instead of actually engaging and meeting new, interesting, complex people.
Now, I can “Carioca” with them, as well as all of the patients at the hospital I volunteer at. I’ve stopped tripping over my own feet, and it’s led to me not being afraid to connect and interact with patients and customers or present in front of large crowds. Life is just one long Carioca – you might stumble at first, but if you keep pushing, the right feet will find themselves in the right place.
Common App Essay Example #20: Chinese Language
A few weeks before freshman year of high school, I stood and stared wide eyed in front of the fortress that is Lincoln. I was there on a mission. Today, I would choose the language I’d take for the next four years.
The list of languages that Lincoln offered startled me. “There’s so many,” I thought, “Latin, Spanish, Chinese, and French.”
About an hour prior, my mom told me, “You need to take Spanish! You could do so much with it.” A couple days before that, multitudes of people advised me that I would regret taking anything other than Spanish.
There’s nothing wrong with Spanish, but I didn’t have a hunger for it. It didn’t seem appetizing. At first glance, I knew what I wanted. I wanted Chinese, and it was mine the moment I laid eyes on it.
I excelled in Chinese class. I passed every test with flying colors. I remembered Chinese characters like they were the names of my best friends. I could converse. Chinese attached itself to every part of my life. I translated anything I could get my hands on, like magazines and menus. It even infiltrated my dreams. I dreamt of radicals and the past life of every character. The only thing I had to do now was visit China.
China was like a far off wish, though. Until it wasn’t. A trip to China was in our school’s future. My mom couldn’t pay for a trip, though. She can’t work because of her disabilities, and I have three other siblings as well as a nephew all in one house. But I didn’t let that dissuade me, because China was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I wasn’t going to let slip away. I started a GoFundMe page, did other fundraisers, and asked for personal donations until I finally reached the whopping total of $5,500. That money covered a passport, visa, plane ticket, and a 9-day guided educational tour as well as extra spending money.
As soon as I stepped off the plane, and set my eyes upon the beautiful city of Shanghai, I fell in love. In that moment, I had an epiphany. China was made for me, and I wanted to give it all my first; first job and first apartment.
Everywhere I looked there were people who spoke the language I loved, Mandarin, so I did what any rational person would do. I made conversation. I talked to moms, kids, seniors, middle schoolers, high schoolers, store clerks, food vendors, and grocery attendants. The list could go on.
Being able to talk with people who had a completely different background than I did astounded me. Some of us had nothing in common but this wonderful language. I shared stories and personal views with so many people I didn’t know, and in return I got innumerable ones from them. The Chinese gave me a piece of their culture and accepted me with open arms. There were so many things in the world that I had never experienced, but these people had. Their stories would be the ones I’d share with my children and grandchildren.
This trip helped me realized how I’m just one person--one small speck--in this world. There is so much more to learn and experience. My trip to China is the reason I want to teach English abroad. The connections I made were because I was able to communicate. Having a second or third language at your disposal makes you an asset. Whole new cultures are open to you. I want kids and adults to be able to make lifelong connections just as I did when I was in China.
“Junzi zhi xin bù sheng qí xiao, ér qìliàng hángài yish.” (Géyán lián bì) is a Chinese proverb that reminds us that we should not act for our own selfish desires, but rather try to serve the greater good.
Prompt: Engaging Topic, Idea, or Concept
#6. 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?
Common App Essay Example #21: Kiki's Delivery Service
I spent much of my childhood watching movies. I became absolutely engrossed in many different films, TV shows, and animations. From the movie theatres to the TV, I spent my hours enjoying the beauty of visual media. One place that was special to me was the car. My parents purchased a special screen that could be mounted on the back of the headrest, so that I could watch movies on trips. This benefited both parties, as I was occupied, and they had peace. Looking back, I realize this screen played a crucial role in my childhood. It was an integral part of many journeys. I remember taking a drive to Washington D.C, with my visiting relatives from Poland, and spending my time with my eyes on the screen. I remember packing up my possessions and moving to my current home from Queens, watching my cartoons the whole time. I can comfortably say that watching movies in the car has been an familiar anchor during times of change in my life.
I used to watch many different cartoons, nature documentaries, and other products in the car, yet there has been one movie that I have rewatched constantly. It is called “Kiki’s Delivery Service” by Hayao Miyazaki. My parents picked it up at a garage sale one day, and I fell in love. The style of the animations were beautiful, and the captivating story of a thirteen year old witch leaving home really appealed to me. To be honest, the initial times I watched it, I didn’t fully understand the story but the magic and beauty just made me happy. Then, the more I watched it, I began to see that it was more about independence, including the need to get away from home and establish yourself as your own person. This mirrors how I felt during that period of my life,with mehaving a little rebellious streak; I didn’t agree with my parents on certain topics. That is not the end of the story though. As the years passed, and I watched it a couple more times, although with less frequency than before, my view of this movie evolved yet again.
Instead of solely thinking about the need for independence, I began to think the movie was more about the balance of independence and reliance. In the movie, the girl finds herself struggling until she begins to accept help from others. Looking back, this also follows my own philosophy during this time. As I began to mature, I began to realize the value of family, and accept all the help I can get from them. I appreciate all the hard work they had done for me, and I recognize their experience in life and take advantage of it. I passed through my rebellious phase, and this reflected in my analysis of the movie. I believe that this is common, and if I look through the rest of my life I am sure I would find other similar examples of my thoughts evolving based on the stage in my life. This movie is one of the most important to me throughout my life.
Common App Essay Example #22: Museum of Life
Stepping inside the converted railway station, I am transported to another world. Amidst gorgeous Beaux-Arts architecture, statues pose on pedestals, and thousands of paintings line the adjacent rooms. The Musée d’Orsay is one of the most magical museums on Earth. I am immediately drawn to the impressionist exhibits to explore the land of Degas and Monet. Dancers stand in rehearsal. Water lilies bask in a pond. The sun sets on Notre Dame. The Little Dancer sculpture I have always dreamed of seeing stands in its glass case. I am overwhelmed with beauty, moments in time painted into immortality and hung up on the wall. Close enough to marvel at the brush strokes taken by the artists who painted my favorite famous works of art in existence, I am seeing dreams that have come to fruition, paintings that have impacted the world with their presence.
A naturalistic observation at an art museum may not sound like it would be effective, but art museums are the best place to observe and learn about a person. My exploration of one gives insight into my aptitude for working in the medical field.
Some people cannot stand art museums. They find no value in looking at pictures on a wall for hours and trying to interpret their meaning. These people prefer more concrete ideas in life rather than the abstract and do not enjoy the unknown or the unsolved. Others go to say that they went. They simply take a picture with the most famous work in the museum and call it a day. Some are lucky enough to appreciate the art’s meaning, but many of these people are most concerned with their appearance and others' opinions on it. Finally, some spend hours absorbing the stories, culture, and beauty that hang on the walls.
I take time interpreting new ideas and perspectives and appreciating the history that lies before me. This reflects my open-mindedness, my thirst for knowledge, and simply my appreciation for art. I am proud to call myself one of the creatives of the world: an imaginative, curious soul.
If people were to watch me experience the art museum, they would see me pass half of the exhibits to get to the ones I am truly enamored by, where I can feel my heart beating out of my chest and the gears of my brain going into overload to take in all of the history and frozen moments in time that surround me. I carefully examine and stop to ponder at the works that truly strike me, and simply take a glance at others. If they were to attempt to create a summary of me based on their observations, I am sure they would be perplexed.
I always gravitate towards what matters most to me, the impressionist exhibits of life: my passions, the people I love, and discovering new things at every chance I get. I live to collect moments, just as the moments in paintings hang on the wall for everyone to see for themself. I enjoy when topics are up for interpretation but find comfort in knowing the fundamentals and studying what is already known. Above all, I want to help others and bring smiles to their faces. I would love to see my impact on the world through the happiness of those I touch around me. This is why pursuing medicine is the perfect future for me.
Like solving a puzzle from the inside-out to give patients a fresh canvas, it is a scientific art. I want to carry my love for art into my practice of medicine, to find creative ways to interpret issues that most would say are unsolvable. My painting, my impact on the world, will be creating those blank canvases for others to continue to paint on, working to give others their own chance to walk through the art museum we call life.
Common App Essay Example #23: French Horn
Holton is my best friend. He may be a bit worn down, but he is an old soul with a story to tell. With him, I have enjoyed Russian folklore, romantic escapades, and renowned classics. With him, I have succeeded and failed. At times, we have had arguments, but when I look back on our time together, it’s the magical moments that resound. When I moved schools, I lost contact with many of my old friends, but I never lost Holton.
At first, I was a bit hesitant about our relationship, but my teacher advised me that Holton and I would grow into great friends if we just gave each other a chance. How could I say no? Since then, I have never looked back. We have taken trips to New York City every weekend, with each passing day bringing a new adventure. Eventually, people began to express worry that all the time we spent together would hinder my academics and hold me back from other pursuits; I didn’t care. Nothing could break our bond.
Sometimes I reminisce about the day I first met Holton. The old adage goes, gold is first and silver is second. With Holton, this notion was turned upside down. When I walked into the shop, it was all gold. It was as if King Midas had touched everything in the store. However, something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. Was that a silver among the golds? He is not your standard image of perfection without that golden shine. However, I knew not to judge anything at face value but rather by the story that it tells; it was this silver horn that possessed the hauntingly golden sound.
Holton is my french horn. Not a shiny new one, but one that has travelled far and experienced much. He has been with me under the bright lights of Lincoln Center and Peter Jay Sharp Theater, and has always given my right arm a good workout as I carry him from class to class, rehearsal to rehearsal, performance to performance.
Through Holton, I have experienced failure. My failed New Jersey Youth Symphony audition as a sixth grader fueled my motivation to practice harder. I still remember my dried lips, cracked notes, and missed entrances. Such failures invariably led to success. Acceptance into the Juilliard Pre-College program will always be one of my happiest memories. However, no success comes without sacrifice. In my early childhood, I participated in every activity that I liked. Basketball, choir, piano...if I enjoyed it, I did it. Mandatory all-day attendance every Saturday at Juilliard with my friend Holton in company, meant I had to give up some other things that I loved. I could no longer be a part of the New Jersey Youth Chorus, the beloved choir in which I had sung for seven years. I would not be able to try out for freshman basketball, one of my high school goals. I would not be able to participate on the debate team in earnest, something that I fell in love in my freshman year. But Holton has been worth these sacrifices and more.
The journey I am experiencing with him more than makes up for anything else I had to give up, and I cannot wait to continue our journey in my college years.
Soon, my high school experience will be over, and as I bid adieu to the friendly walls of Delbarton, I will hit the road to wherever this application process takes me. Among all the suitcases in the trunk will be a black, worn-down horn case; inside will be Holton, ready for more adventures. Many college-bound seniors wish for good roommates. I know that in Holton I will have, at the very least, one great one. He will always hold a special place in my life and in my heart as my first prize silver.
Prompt: Any Topic of Your Choice
#7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
Common App Essay Example #24: Dear My Younger Self
My advice is not scientifically-proven, mother-tested, or kid-approved. However, I think it will make your life easier. But take this advice — as anyone would from a 17 year old — with a grain of salt. It is only as reliable as my own experiences. So here it is:
Speak Portuguese. It’s frustrating to know that I lost such a valuable skill because I deemed it too “embarrassing” to use in front of my kindergarten classmates. Fluency in another language is no...
Common App Essay Example #25: Monopoly
Sliding the scottie dog across “Go!” past Boardwalk and Park Place, I immediately exhale. I am safe for another round; far more importantly, though, my younger brothers have not surpassed me.
After passing by the weekend of “GO,” I begin the next lap around the board of challenge, success, and strategy. My next turn stops me at a chance card that reads: “Psychology project, physics assignment, and precalc test tomorrow. You will not be home from riding until 10 PM, but be at school at 6:30 a.m. for an NHS meeting. Go.” Solving for f’(x) atop a tack trunk in between riding my horses, Cinda and Coco, and writing about Milgram’s prison experiment by the light of my phone on the way back home, I’ve managed to make it through this round, but not before falling asleep, pencil in hand.
My next turn is greeted with a bit more docility as I land on my brother’s property, and begrudgingly pay my rent of driving him to and from lacrosse practice. I return home to finish updating a client’s website, and complete my homework before re-organizing my closet to be sorted chromatically (I suppose I am the slightest bit type A...). Later, I pass out while on FaceTime with my bestfriend, Stephen, only to have a nightmare filled unsolvable physics problems: which way does the pulley go?! The world may never know!
However, my next roll is not as kind: I land on the tile that reads “GO TO JAIL!” The night before the most important math test of the year, I discover that my dad, with whom I have a very distant relationship, has become homeless. Questioning what I was doing as I continued to study—and consuming an entire bag of jolly ranchers in the process—I remind myself that I cannot control what others around me choose to do. With luck on my side and doubles on the first role, I take the test the next day to discover I have studied all of the right problems and receive a 98%. I am still in the game for another turn.
Feeling a bit weary from my last roll of the dice, I cross my fingers with the “FREE PARKING” square in sight. As luck has it, I smoothly glide past the hotels to have my best horse show yet- earning multiple wins against stiff competition and gaining points to qualify for five different national finals this year.
The game of Monopoly runs parallel to my life in many ways. It is a game of strategy and precision, with a hint of luck and a tremendous amount of challenge. These factors result in a game filled with tests and questions around every corner, keeping me on my toes. Through good and bad “turns,” I have learned when to multitask and when to focus, when to take risks and when to play it safe, when to have a poker face and when to ask for help. Most importantly, I know that in moments of doubt or confusion, I can rise to the occasion. Whether I am faced with a befuddling essay prompt, a difficult course in the horse show ring, or even unfortunate decisions by people in my life, I know I can always attack any situation with confidence and vigor.
As I embark on my next trip around the board, I reflect on the past properties I have purchased, taxes I have paid, and hotels I have built. Through the rounds I have played thus far, I learned how to deal with whatever numbers I roll and spaces I land on, whether that be “GO TO JAIL” or “FREE PARKING”. I pick up the chance card from my last turn with confidence: “Take what comes and enjoy the ride” I smile. I am ready.
If you want to get accepted into selective colleges this year, your Common App essays needs to be its best possible.
What makes a good Common App essay isn't easy to define. There aren't any rules or steps.
But using these samples from real students, you can understand what it takes to write an outstanding personal statement.