How long does the common app essay have to be

The Common App personal essay is the Holy Grail of your college application, but for many, the perfect topic is an elusive target. The Common App that the Class of will become all too familiar with is not the one of years past. For the first time, the Common App will strictly enforce the limit of to words.

Additionally, the word activities and extracurriculars paragraph is now gone, so you can focus your time and energy on the bigger essay. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn? 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? 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. 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. Broad, right? They can be but do not have to be—by any means—about a major traumatic experience. They can but need not discuss family, identity, race, gender, or class. They are a place to give the admissions committee a chance to see the you that your friends, classmates, teachers, teammates, and family know.

The Common App Essay prompts are diverse enough that they allow you to write about pretty much anything. Therefore, we encourage you to brainstorm your best stories first and then think about which question to answer. Admissions committees have no preference for which prompt you choose. Some of these are made up but others are closely based on essays we have worked with students on over the past ten-plus years—and these students successfully met their admissions goals, including getting into multiple Ivy League and other top-tier schools.

Student 1: She was involved in student government, performed in cultural shows as a dancer, and did speech events. She is a rabid fan of the New England Patriots, despite living in California for most of her life.


Student 2: Anita has an aptitude for English and history. Student 3: He plays basketball and piano. Student 4: Michael lives in a small coastal town and attends a big public high school. His grandfather recently passed away. That can make trying to communicate who you are as well as who you hope to become a daunting task. We are big proponents of starting early—ideally in June.

You may not be thrilled at the prospect of spending the summer before your senior year on college applications. But getting going in June after your junior year and committing to a few exercises over the summer will be like spring training for summer athletes. This is crucial because your application is a chance to offer not only the facts about you but also a narrative of you—a sense of who you are, how you move through the world, and what you hope to become.

Review the Common App questions and identify which ones get your juices flowing. You can also use our expanded prompts to help you brainstorm and freewrite over the summer. Prompt 7. Make a list of themes and broad topics that matter to you. What do you, your friends, and family spend a lot of time thinking about or talking about? Tell the story of an important day or event in relation to one of these topics. Think of a specific time they helped you with something. Tell the story. Think of any person—family, friend, teacher, etc—who has been important to you.

When did you first meet them? When did you have a crucial, meaningful, or important conversation with them? Make a list of experiences that have been important to you. These do not have to be dramatic, tragic, traumatic, or prove that you changed the world, though they can be any of those. Perhaps a particular summer that mattered a lot? Or an experience with friend or family member who shaped you—it could be a specific day spent with them, or a weekend, a summer, a year?

Specific anecdotes are your friend when drafting your Common App personal statement. Try to think of a story you often tell people that shows something about you. Prompt 1. Where did you grow up? Describe your neighborhood, town, or community. Big or small? What makes it unlike other parts of the world? How has it affected you? For instance, is there farmland all around you, grain silos, cows?

A Chik-Fil-A every block? Where is home for your parents?

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Does their home impact your day-to-day life? Describe the first time you saw their home, in story form. Did you grow up considering another place that is not where you currently live home? Tell the story of the first time you went there or the first time you remember going there. Was there a particular time—a summer, or a year—when that place became important?

Tell that story. What do people in your community or school know you for? Tell the story of the first time you did this thing. Tell the story of the most meaningful time you did this thing—it might be, say, when you won a game, but it also might be when you lost a game, or when you quit the team. How have you spent your summers in high school?

In childhood? Tell a story of a memorable day during a memorable summer. Where were you? Why did it matter? Does what happened that day influence you today? Prompt 2. What major changes have you been through? A move? Changing schools? Losing a loved one or a friend? Avoid writing about romantic relationships and breakups in your essays, but feel free to mine them in your freewriting.

Tell the story of the day that change occurred—the day you moved, the first day at the new school or the last day at the old school, the day you got bad news about a family member or a friend, etc. Did you ever quit an extracurricular activity or a job? Tell the story of the day that happened, and of the day you decided to quit.

What class was hardest for you in high school? Tell the story of a specific class assignment that was difficult. Now tell the story of a specific class assignment that caused you to have a breakthrough, or changed your mind about something. Tell the story of the day you tried it.

Who encouraged you to? Have you faced a disability, a mental or physical health issue, or other significant challenge while in high school? Think of a day when you are proud of how you handled or carried yourself in the face of this challenge. Read more on how to write about a disability in your college essay for additional guidance.

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Prompt 3. What values did you grow up holding dear? Are they the same ones today? Tell the story of the first time you learned about these values—say, a morning at Sunday School or a conversation with a grandparent. Is there a prevalent belief in your family or community with which you disagree?

Can you go over the Common App length limit? How long should your essay be?

How did you come to disagree? Tell the story of a time you are proud of how you handled conflict in relation to this disagreement. When were you wrong about something? Tell the story of how you figured out you were wrong. Who helped you get there? Prompt 4. What class assignments have gotten you thinking hardest?

Common Application Essay Prompts | The Common Application

Tell the story of one of them. What books or articles have you read that caused you to identify something wrong in the world? Who handed it to you? Who did you discuss it with afterward? How often have you reread that meaningful book or article? Is there a problem that comes up over the dinner table with your family regularly?

How do you think about solving it as a family, or individually? Tell the story of one of those dinners. What makes you angry or furious about the world? Tell the story of a time you saw something—visually—that provoked that anger or frustration. Describe images and your reactions. Prompt 5. They say a piece of short fiction is about a moment after which nothing will be the same again. Have you lived through one of those moments? What was it? Tell the story of the day that happened. Prompt 6. What do you get up to? Set the scene: Where do you go? What do you bring with you?

What activities have you self-started—that is, what have you done without ever being told to? Tell the story of the first day you started doing that thing. What do your friends come to you seeking help with? Tell the story of a time when you think you did a great job of helping another person. Now, to make sure you stay humble, tell the story of when that person helped you. Freewriting is one of the fun parts, so the more you can do it, the better. There are a number of ways to approach freewriting, and all of them are meant to keep you limber, loose, and free.

Buy a few composition notebooks: Work in these for the summer. No need to get precious—no fancy Moleskins here, and no laptops or tablets unless you are physically unable to write by hand. Writing which is different from a tapping-on-a-keyboard-kind-of-story. For one thing, there is no delete button, making the experience more lifelike right away. What are you going to write about during those six minutes? Instead, what might come out as she writes by hand is… I remember the rush the first time I stood up at a mock trial tournament. But why did I love playing this role of attorney? Was it the theater?

The chance to finally argue without getting in trouble at the dinner table? Write in big letters and double-space. Let your hand roam free. Allowing your writing to breathe away from you can prevent you from committing one of the cardinal sins of personal statement-writing—but also all writing! To get more concrete: Respect your process and let these things sit. And if you spend your summer warming up and training for the main event, you can start rereading your body of freewriting by the end of July.

Recommended reading: The Ideal College Application Timeline. In an ideal world, you can start writing and planning for your college essays the summer before your senior year. But many students have prior commitments that make following a six-month June-December timeline difficult. Six months - June to December ideal if you are applying early action or early decision anywhere: Complete first draft of Common App personal statement.

Week two of August: Complete second draft here is where the major revision work comes in. Beginning of September: Seek feedback, if you have not already, from a trusted admissions counselor, English teacher, or other advisor. Now you have October to complete your secondary essays. First week of September: Week two of September: Beginning of October: Now you have the second two weeks of October to complete your secondary essays for anywhere you are applying early with a November due date, and the rest of November to complete any remaining secondary essays for schools with December and January due dates most regular decision deadlines.

One month - October to November for regular decision schools: Third week of October: Last week of October: Mid-November, before Thanksgiving break: Now you have December to complete any remaining secondary essays for schools with December and January due dates most regular decision deadlines. Mega crunch time - Starting in November in case you get started on your application really late and are down to less than one month, use the following timeline: Complete second draft. Complete fourth and final draft.

Further reading: Thank you! Your guide is on its way. In the meantime, please let us know how we can help you crack the the college admissions code. You can also learn more about our 1-on-1 college admissions support here. What notes should your essay hit? Here are some characteristics that a good essay topic contains: Anecdote and specificity. Your essay will always go beyond the anecdote, but an anecdote offers a reader an easy, smooth way into your personal statement.

A good essay topic can relate, as much as possible, to a particular anecdote, story, or even scene. It was July, and our older brother had just gone to college, leaving the two of us alone at home together for the first time. A good essay begins at a specific point in time and revolves around a specific event. So pull from your freewriting: Another way of thinking about this is: That gives you a character, a place, and a plot—all crucial elements of an essay. Tension, conflict, and opportunity to show growth. Because your topic needs to display your ability to grow, to show change over a period of time.

If Josh has always had a perfect relationship with his sister, well—first, no one will believe that! Then Josh would tell us about what changed as soon as the brother left, and in there he might find an opening anecdote. Michael has settled on his grandfather teaching him to surf: Some connection between your past, your present, and your future.

Before you even start writing, think about whether your potential topic is influencing the way you think about the present, and, crucially, the future. Take Michael, again. Does that matter?

Ideal College Application Essay Length

Not as long as he tells us how surfing influences him—as he did in extracting a wider lesson. Students often ask us: Should I not write about a dying grandparent? About coming out? About the meaning of my name? About politics? But wait. There is one big rule. Be humble. So now, make a list of everything that seems like a fruitful topic. Ramya could try to write something about medicine. Or she could write about soccer, dance, or speech. So we decide that Ramya is going to write about the Patriots. The obvious thing—and the thing most teachers and advisors told Anita to do—is write about mock trial.

It would be a good opportunity to give the admissions committee some insight into her psychology behind the success. So instead Anita decides to write about a wilderness solo she took in North Carolina on a school trip, and about how it influenced her relationship with poetry. Josh did some writing about his relationship with his sister and his brother, and that might find a home in the secondary essays. He found himself writing a lot about mistakes, public performance anxiety, and the pressure to get a piece just right. Remember that if you are applying early action or early decision to schools your deadline will come at the start of November, whereas regular decision applications will generally have December and January deadlines.

At words, each of these will be best understood as a five-paragraph essay, so a basic structure stays the same, but the way things begin and end will not.