The Common Application: What Should I Write About?

Good news, college applicants. The subject is secondary.

Your application essay is a story about you. It’s not about poor orphans in Ecuador or your Great Aunt Lucy or the time you ran for student government. It’s about how that person or experience affected you. Are you different now? Did you learn something meaningful about yourself?

Some of the best essays we’ve read focus on the most mundane moments: two brothers on a bike ride through their neighborhood; a talented dancer choosing to drop all but a few of her dance classes; a boy and his sister stuck in traffic; a high school junior trying out for the pom-pon team at her new school; an aspiring baseball player watching his cousin take endless batting practice.

Frequently, these mundane moments are where we learn our enduring life lessons; the moments where our best and most authentic selves emerge.

Everyone has a story to tell. If more students (and parents!) would relax and let those stories emerge, the essay wouldn’t seem like such a stumbling block, and instead would be seen as the opportunity it is – a chance to tell people who may never meet you something real about yourself.