Writing A Strong College Essay

The source of much anxiety and stress during the college application process, the college essay remains an important component of a student's college application: the unique opportunity for the applicant to use their own voice to tell their story. Students struggle to find the right topic though it is, more often than not, a topic they would never have thought interesting enough to write about.

It's the small 'incident' that makes the best essay topic; an event, experience, revelation or moment that the student might consider inconsequential, yet was powerful enough to alter the student's view, direction or purpose. An essay has accomplished its job if the reader learns something about the applicant that is not already contained in the application. 

The seven essay prompts for the 2018-2019 Common App are identical to last year’s, offering applicants an endless variety of options of what to write about. With a maximum word count of 650 words (minimum of 250) any student regardless of their socioeconomic situation, or background, will easily find a story to tell through one of the following prompts:

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.

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?

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

4. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

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? 

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. 

There are five essay prompts for the 2018-2019 Coalition Application. Very similar to those of the Common App, the Coalition’s belief is that there is no ‘perfect’ length for an essay and propose a range of 500-550 words. The prompts are ….

1. Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

2. Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and retreads of making your contribution.

3. Has there been time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?

4. What is the hardest part of being teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?

5. Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

Students applying to highly selective colleges and universities will find that they also have supplemental essays to write, which should never be taken lightly. With school-specific prompts and smaller word count limits these essays should also be well written, researched and should answer the prompt. Here's yet another opportunity for students to use their voice!

Making the assumption that we know what admission officers want to hear is a common error and the truth is that we have absolutely no idea. We do know, however, that a strong essay should NOT be a reformatted resume, repeat information already available somewhere in the application, and should avoid these topics.

The essay can be either a deal maker or a deal breaker, so DO NOT take it lightly, and beyond good grammar and spelling, a college essay is NOT an English class essay, but resembles more a journal entry or letter home. Write something that the admission officers will remember, not fall asleep reading!