How to Write Your Common Application Essay

How can you choose a Common App essay topic that will reveal the true you? The good news is that almost any of them will work.

Colleges want curious, persistent, articulate, and self-aware students. The Common Application essay topics throw the door wide open for each applicant to show how he or she is that kind of person.

What Should Your Common Application Essay Be About?

Think of the Common App essay topics as starting points. As Yale Admissions says, "It doesn't matter which topics you choose, as long as they are meaningful to you. Your perspective—the lens through which you view your topic—is far more important than the specific topic itself."

The Common Application Essay Topics for 2016–2017

  • 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 failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn from the experience?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • 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 or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

How to Choose Which Topic to Pursue

Look at each topic and ask yourself what personal experiences come to mind. Write them down, and then look your list over.

  • Chances are, the experiences that are most meaningful to you will make great themes for your essay. As Wellesley Admissions advises, "An essay about some small, even insignificant-seeming thing can be more powerful than the 'How I'll save the world' essay."
  • Experiment with several topics before picking one. This will help you uncover the deeper connections that will bring your essay to life. Bear in mind that certain themes are overused and should be avoided unless you have a particularly unique angle. These include death, divorce, sports, travel, religion, politics, and brief volunteer experiences.

More Tips for the Written Portions of the Common Application

  • Heed the word count limit. The maximum word count is 650 words. But you don't have to write to the maximum. In fact, getting your message across in fewer words is more powerful. The minimum word count is 250 words.
  • Pay equal attention to any writing supplement requested by the college. It can matter just as much to your admissions chances as your essay.

What's Next?