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College Application Essay FAQs

What is the purpose of a college application essay?

Your college essay is how college admissions officers get to know you apart from your test scores and grades. It's your personality on the page. The schools learn what kind of person you are—how you think, how you make decisions, how you see the world, and what experiences have been meaningful or important to you. Most of all, it helps the schools determine if you will be a good fit.


What is the Common Application essay?
When people talk about a college essay, they're usually talking about the essay on the Common Application. The Common Application is an application that is filled out once and sent to all the colleges you're applying to that accept it. Currently, over 900 schools accept the Common Application.


Do all schools accept the Common Application?
No. Schools that don't accept the Common Application usually require students to write different essays. Check your college list so that you know.


What do colleges look for in a college application essay or a personal statement?

College admissions officers look for three main things in an essay:
   •    How well you write and organize your thoughts
   •    Who are you and what matters to you
   •    Can we envision you contributing in a positive way to our campus community


Colleges also look for a learning or growth experience.

Your story should contain a learning or growth experience.  For instance, your experience might have led you to develop new goals, to recognize how you'd handle a certain situation differently, or to learn resilience when you work through an obstacle. Colleges look to see how you've grown because it helps them picture the type of student you'll be when you get to campus and adjust to a new environment.

How important for my essay to be original?

Very. That doesn't mean that you have to write about a topic no one else has ever written about (practically impossible). But it does mean that you should be telling a story that can only come from you—from your perspective, from your ideas, from your experience. No one else should be able to write it but you.


Do all colleges require a college application essay?

No, but most do.


What are the Common Application Essay 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. 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?

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. 

What is the Common Application essay word limit?
650 words.

It is possible to upload more than 650 words?


Will some colleges want me to write additional essays?
Yes. Some colleges will ask you for one or more additional essays. These are called supplemental essays.

How can I keep up to date about the Common Application?

The Common App has a Facebook page. Like the page and get updates in your newsfeed.

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