In the world of college admissions the new Common Application, which goes live online August 1 is BIG news. The Common App is now completely online and students who need fee waivers to apply to college need only apply once. The new Common App is truly designed to make applications simpler for students to succeed.
The biggest difference is the new essay questions. A committee led by diverse college counselors and admissions officers worked for over two years to create the new questions, which are designed to give every type of student the ability to tell their own story in their own voice–to use their admissions essays to speak honestly and directly about what is most important to them.
So how can you make the new questions work for you? Here’s a strategy for success and some examples of essays that worked for students like you.
The hardest part of the essay process is finding stories (aka “topics”) that are bold enough and vulnerable enough to be truly your own. Lots of people do community service. By itself, that’s not enough. If you’re not working hard and learning how to succeed in school, then you’re not ready for college, so that’s not a topic either. Even if you are truly humble and reluctant to put yourself forward in your application essays, this is not a time to hold back. The essays are your one chance to differentiate yourself from other students who look the same on paper. The only thing that works is honesty and speaking in your unique voice.
So how do you find those stories that connect with people?
- Find a friend you trust to push you and be honest with you.
- Have your friend interview you about the moments in your life when you have changed, learned, or made a difference. Find at least 8 of these moments—and at least half from high school—and write them down. Afterward, return the favor and interview your friend.
- Which one of your own stories moves you the most? Go more deeply into the most important moments of that story. What changed? What were you like before and after the change? Take lots of notes.
- Then tell your story out loud to your friend and record it on your phone or computer. That is your first draft. You still have a lot of work to do, but you have found a topic that you can use to answer the new Common App Question #1.
Remember to enjoy the journey! The Common Application gives you the chance to pull everything you have done and everything you want to do into one place—to take all of your experiences, hopes and dreams and build a bridge from high school to college. The essays are the heart of the process, the way to talk directly to colleges in your own voice. Make the most of that chance.
Want to read the admissions essays of four students that got accepted to their first-choice college? Download Success Stories, a collection of four annotated students essays, from the Story To College web site.
Carol Barash, PhD, founder and CEO of Story To College and author of Write Out Loud, has taught over 8000 students–from first-generation college students, to the children of bankers and CEOs–and teachers from around the world how to tell their stories and write essays that win admission and scholarships at their top choice colleges.