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The Tips to Writing a More Effective Common App Essay

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Common App Essay Tutor offers the best solution for Common Application Essay Prompts. Alan Stransman can help you to write a compelling common app essay for students, college.

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The Tips to Writing a More Effective Common App Essay

  1. 1. 3 TIPS FOR WRITING A MORE EFFECTIVE COMMON APP ESSAY A Special Report by Alan Stransman, Founder of www.commonappessaytutor.com www.commonappessaytutor.com Abstract The Common App Essay Prompts were published on Aug. 1, 2015, and students can now begin to write their Common App Essay. These 3 Tips Will Help Students Write a More Effective Essay.
  2. 2. www.commonappessaytutor.com 3 Tips for Writing a More Effective Common App Essay Part 1 What is The Common Application? The Common Application is an online application process used by over 550 colleges and universities, whose mission is to increase access to institutions of higher learning by standardizing and streamlining the application process. The 2015-2016 Common Application process launched on Aug. 1, and, in addition to being able to create an account for the upcoming college application season at www.commonapp.org, students can also begin to work on their Common App Essay, as the essay prompts were published on that date, as well. A Significant Change to the Common App for 2015-2016 One of the most significant changes to the Common App for 2015-2016 is that, unlike in previous years, the Common App Essay is not a requirement of all of the Common Application member colleges and universities. The 2015-2016 policy regarding the Common App Essay is stated below: “Some colleges require submission of the personal essay with your Common Application. You may submit a personal essay to any college, even if it is not required by that college. If not required by a college, you will be given the option during submission to include your essay or not for that college.” The Common App Essay is NO LONGER a Requirement of Every College and University In the past, the personal essay, known as the Common App Essay, was a required by every college and university that had opted to use the Common Application, but that is no longer the case – an essay only needs to be submitted to those institutions that specifically require it. However, an applicant may still choose to include an essay with his or her application, even if the college or university to which he or she is applying does not require it. Why Submit a Common App Essay to a College That Doesn’t Require it? The answer to that question lies in the description of the personal essay provided by the Common Application organization. Let’s look closely at what it says: “The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and
  3. 3. www.commonappessaytutor.com structure your response. Remember, 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. (The application won’t accept a shorter response than 250 words.)” A Chance to Distinguish Yourself in Your Own Voice Although the personal essay is no longer required by every member college and university in the Common App, as it was in previous years, the fundamental objective of the essay has not changed – and that is to provide you, the applicant, with an opportunity tell readers of your application something about yourself that does not necessarily come through in your grades, test scores or letters of recommendation. And why wouldn’t you want to do that? Even when the Common App Essay was a requirement of the Common App, there was no sense that an ineffective essay would hinder your chances, as an applicant, of being accepted into the college or university of your choice, but that a compelling and memorable essay would improve your chances. And still seems to be the case. As a Common App Essay Tutor, I believe that every student should submit a personal essay as part of their Common Application - even to institutions that do not require it. But not just any personal essay. The goal is to submit a personal essay which does exactly what it was designed to do – that is, provide information to readers of your application, in your own voice, that distinguishes you from other applicants. Distinguish Yourself in Your Own Voice – Therein Lies the Challenge The Common App Essay – or any form of “personal essay” – is a challenge for students because it is very different from the kinds of essays that most students are used to writing for their academic courses. In a personal essay, the subject is “you” – not an idea, theory, philosophy, book or play – you! The objective of a personal essay, as we stated a moment ago, is to tell the reader something about you – some characteristic that is unique, memorable, significant, and distinguishing – that helps your application “come to life” – and you to appear more like a real person than a set of grades and test results. And that is a very tall order – especially for someone who only has 17 or 18 years of life experience to draw on. So rest assured – you’re not the only one struggling to figure out how to write an effective Common App Essay. Everyone else is struggling too.
  4. 4. www.commonappessaytutor.com In the next section of this report, I will outline 3 key tips that I use to help students write a more effective Common App Essay.
  5. 5. www.commonappessaytutor.com 3 Tips for Writing a More Effective Common App Essay Part 2 As I stated in the previous section of this report, the Essay Prompts for the 2015-2016 Common App Essay were published on Aug. 1. There are some significant changes in the Essay Prompts for the current application season, but rather than beginning with the prompts, when I work with a student on his or her Common App Essay, I prefer to begin with a paragraph from the Common App website that I cited earlier in which the objective of the essay is explained: “The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember, 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. (The application won’t accept a shorter response than 250 words.)” Note that in quoting the paragraph this time, I have italicized three key phrases: Write clearly and concisely Distinguish yourself in your own voice What do you want the readers of your application to know about you? Common App Essay Tip Number 1 is to recognize that these three phrases are really all you need as they tell you exactly what you need to do – which is to tell the readers of your application something about you that distinguishes you from all of the other applicants, in a clear and concise way and in your own voice. Of those three requirements, the most important – by far – is deciding what it is you want your readers to know about you – which is why when I work with a student on a Common App Essay, I don’t begin with the Essay Prompts. I begin with the question, “What do you want the readers of your application to know about you?” If a student – that is, if you - can answer that question without any prompts, I guarantee that you will be able to choose an Essay Prompt that aligns with your topic and provides a structure for your essay. In other words – do you already know what makes you unique? If you were sitting beside someone on a bus and he or she said, “So, tell me something about yourself that makes you different” – would you already know exactly what to say?
  6. 6. www.commonappessaytutor.com If you can answer that question without any of the essay prompts, then you probably already know what you want to write about in your Common App Essay. If you cannot answer that question, the Essay Prompts are there to help you – and that is when you should use them – but it is always better to try to identify a unique quality, characteristic, talent, experience or interest first – and then find the Essay Prompt that is most-closely aligned with it – if you can. In my experience, when students begin by focusing on the Essay Prompts, they tend to think of them as essay topics, and immediately gravitate to the ones that they think would be easiest to “answer”. But the Essay Prompts are not “questions” to be answered – they are “prompts”, intended to help you look into your past experiences to select the one that is most revealing of a unique quality or characteristic. The easiest answer is not necessarily the best. An Example of How Focusing on the Essay Prompts Exclusively Can Result in the Wrong Focus I recently began working with a high school senior who sent me a preliminary draft of his Common App Essay. He explained that he had begun the process of writing the essay by reviewing the Essay Prompts and choosing the one below: “Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?” This is how his essay began: “Religious choice and freedoms are woven into our American fabric and history. The choices we have as Americans set us apart from many countries across the globe as we are free to choose our religious beliefs without fear of punishment or prosecution. However, like politics, religion too is a lightning rod for controversy and those who can only see and tolerate their own beliefs help make our world a very unstable place.” The essay went on to describe a situation at a private school in which he had encountered religious intolerance, and his efforts to challenge it, but the essay revealed less about him than it did about the attitudes and behaviours of the people in the school that he found objectionable. By beginning with the Essay Prompts, he found himself drawn to a topic which he felt he could write about with relative ease, as the incident involving religious intolerance was still fresh in his mind.
  7. 7. www.commonappessaytutor.com In other words – he chose to write about a time when he challenged a belief or idea – instead of writing about a unique talent, experience, interest or characteristic – and, as a result, he was not “in the frame” of the essay. Think of the Common App Essay as a “frame” – with you squarely in the center. By beginning with the question, “What do you want readers of your application to know about you?” - you immediately place yourself in the middle of the frame. By beginning with a “time you challenged a belief or idea” – you can make the mistake of putting the idea or belief in the middle of the frame, and the result is an essay which is theoretical and not personal. When I began to work with this student on his Common App Essay, I went back to the central question, “What would you want the readers of your application to know about you?” The answer he came up with was very different from the premise of his initial effort, and resulted in a Common App Essay that is far more personal, effective and compelling than his original essay. The Common App Essay Prompts Are Very Useful When Used in the Right Way This is not to say that the Essay Prompts are not useful – they are! – but, if possible, see if you can answer the question, “What do you want readers of your application to know about you?” without the prompts first, and if you can, then see if you can find a prompt that aligns with and provides a structure for the answer you came up with. The result may well be a far more effective and powerful essay. Now Structure Your Common App Essay in the Form of a StoryCommon App Essay Tip Number 2 is to structure your essay in the form of a narrative As I stated earlier, the Common App Essay is what is called a “personal essay” – and, as such, it does not sound like the kind of essay you are accustomed to writing for your high school courses. One of the most effective strategies that you can employ for your Common App Essay is to tell a story – with a beginning, middle and end. Let’s go back to the first sentence of the essay that I quoted above – the one that was sent to me recently by a student: “Religious choice and freedoms are woven into our American fabric and history.” There is nothing wrong with that sentence – but does it grab your attention in the way that the sentences below do?
  8. 8. www.commonappessaytutor.com “ERX, the word rings clearly in my ears today.” “The two weeks of camp were over and I was bumping along in a bus full of children en route to Sarajevo when the first glimpses of the horror that had taken place in Bosnia finally began to make the situation real.” “This summer I pushed myself to the limit time and time again.” The three sentences above were excerpted from the 3rd edition of, “College Essays That Made a Difference”, published by the Princeton Review, which I highly recommend to you – and, as you can clearly see, they share one characteristic. They all immediately draw the reader into a personal narrative. What follows each of these sentences is less an essay than it is a story. As I stated a moment ago, the most effective Common App Essays tend to be stories – with a beginning, middle and end – plus a moral or lesson. If you can tell the readers of your application something important, unique and memorable about you in the form of an engaging story – including the lesson you learned from it – you will have written an effective Common App Essay. Now Make Sure to Include Vivid, Authentic Details in Your Story Common App Essay Tip Number 3 is to tell your story with vivid and authentic detail. This is how you help ensure that it is in your own voice. Whatever topic you choose to write about, you can be sure that thousands of other applicants have chosen to write about the same topic. Let’s face it – most students have had many of the same life experiences – with their friends, family members, schools, teams, jobs, etc. So, how can you make your essay stand out? The answer is authentic, vivid detail. You want your Common App Essay to sound as if you are the only person in the world who could have written it, because you are the one who has intimate knowledge of the details. Writing is dull and boring when it lacks sharp detail – and it is engaging and compelling when it is filled with it. Consider the excerpts below from essays included in the collection cited earlier:
  9. 9. www.commonappessaytutor.com “Mozart and Da Ponte’s Le Nozze Di Figaro, The Marriage of Figaro, has done much for me. It has ushered my musical palette forth with breathtaking speed.” “Standing barefoot in the cool, wet sand of Nha Trang Beach, I breathed in the fishy stench of the ocean.” “Every afternoon as I leave the school parking lot, I pop in my Favorite CD by clarinetist, Benny Goodman. I listen to “Seven Comes Eleven” and “Clarinetitis”, which help relieve my stress.” Note the rich detail in each of the above passages. Could anyone have written the first sentence who didn’t know about Mozart and Da Ponte’s, “The marriage of Figaro”? By including specific details in your essay, you demonstrate your command of the material, and your voice becomes authoritative. If there is anything that you want to demonstrate in your Common App Essay it is that you know what you are writing about, and you have complete command of your material. Readers respond to an authoritative voice and tend to dismiss one that sounds unsure or tentative. The 2015-2016 Essay Prompts As I stated earlier in this report, the 2015-2016 Common App Essay Prompts were published on Aug. 1, 2015. If you have not reviewed them yet, they are listed below: 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 failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? 3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again? 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 or event, formal or informal that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
  10. 10. www.commonappessaytutor.com Note that all of the Essay prompts are carefully crafted to encourage you – to prompt you – to structure your Common App Essay in the form of a narrative. For more information about the Common App Essay prompts, visit: http://www.commonapp.org. A Common App Essay Tutor Can Help You Write a More Effective Common App Essay In this report, I have provided three key tips for writing a more effective Common App Essay. Let’s review them quickly: 1. Begin by answering the question, “What do you want readers of your application to know about you? 2. Write your essay in the form of an engaging and compelling narrative. 3. Make sure your story has lots of vivid and authentic detail. While these 3 tips will help you write a more effective essay, you may need help implementing them. If you would like me to help you with your Common App Essay, contact me anytime via: Email: astransman@rogers.com OR Telephone: 416-519-4427 OR Skype: AlanStransman Visit my website at http://www.commonappessaytutor.com.

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