The Common Application, or, the “Common App,” is arguably one of the most important constants in the college admissions process. It’s also known to students as their primary challenge leading up to their decision letters. The main role of the Common App is to simplify and centralize the college application process, as the platform is utilized by the vast majority of universities across the United States. This benefits administration but also students since it reduces the redundant, generic information a student would normally need to provide over multiple applications. Within the Common Application, students are required to choose their schools, organize their recommendation letters, produce an activities list, and fill out all personal information, among other requirements. Colleges that students apply to will also reveal the need for additional documentation and writing materials if needed. Most of the application is pretty straight forward, but the most disliked part of the Common App for most applicants is the writing supplement, which is provided in the form of six prompts and the option to include an essay you’ve previously written.
With the growing selectivity of universities, one’s first thought when starting the Common App essay is to save it for last! Due to the amount of importance put upon one essay, it’s common for applicants to stress out and procrastinate. Oftentimes this results in completing the essay at the last minute, and as you might guess, in submitting a less remarkable personal statement.
That said, the best way to avoid falling victim to procrastination is to break the task into manageable chunks that don’t seem so daunting! We’ve compiled a list of strategies that you can use to get started:
Build a List of Experiences
When you first look at the Common App prompts, you might have trouble choosing a prompt to address. They don’t make it easy – while most prompts ultimately encourage you to elaborate on a past experience, they differ in expectations. The best way to get started is to put together a list of experiences you’ve had since your freshman year in high school. Think about what you did in the summers, your extracurriculars, and any work opportunities you may have been involved in.
Change your Mindset
A common pitfall when building this list is feeling discouraged that none of the activities or experiences are worthy of putting on paper. It’s quite often that students feel like their experiences aren’t interesting, but truly, that is not the case. The admissions committee doesn’t expect every applicant to be involved in ground-breaking research or solving a global issue. Are your experiences interesting? You bet! Think within, and don’t compare yourself to what you’ve heard might impress a committee or what other people have accomplished. Everybody has unique experiences to share and the way you show that on paper will look different from others.
What’s your Favorite Story to Tell?
This is an important question you should ask yourself when deciding which experience to write about and which prompt to choose. Do you find yourself thinking about a specific experience, so much that you constantly share it with others? Then you’ve likely landed on the right combination and a perfect fit for sharing an experience and connecting it to one of the prompts.
Write as you Speak
A great way to get started once you’ve centered on a prompt and story, is to simply begin writing the story as you share it. Word for word; this is a great starting point. You can worry about the structure and editing process after you’ve finished writing the story, but for now, getting over the hump of writer’s block is your first goal. Refining the drafts can come later.
Show, don’t Tell
Remember that when you share your story, it’s best not to skimp on the details. Details and context are what adds color to your story and helps your audience imagine the experience or journey you were on.
Getting words on paper is a huge leap from previously feeling concerned or overwhelmed about the Common App essay. By beginning the process, you allow yourself more time for editing and reviewing multiple drafts. Ultimately, this will prevent the need to rush anything, and also allow you to enjoy your senior year, and focus on other activities instead of constantly putting off the Common App essay.
If you do include any quotes, make sure you properly credit them to the author, and just in case you fear you’ve used examples from any literature you’ve read, be sure to run your essay through a plagiarism checker like Quetext before submitting it to the Common App platform. If you find yourself still struggling with writer’s block, check out our article on that topic here: Overcoming Writer’s Block.