The Common App Essay: What Matters and What Doesn’t



What matters:


Original voice. All this means is that you sound like you. The best way to have an original voice in your essay is to talk about your life and accomplishments in specific and detailed language. Tell your story and don’t worry that it doesn’t sound like anyone else’s.


Making every word count. Hughes College Prep can help you hone your essay down into its near perfect 650 word or under form. It’s hard to edit alone, and to know what to keep or get rid of, so run it by other readers and ask for advice on what’s working and what’s not. Think about how to make your sentences as concise as possible.


Revision. Overwrite at first, cut back later. Starting with a draft that’s just barely at the word count gives you way less to work with later. Your Common App essay will likely undergo dozens and dozens of drafts before it’s ready to submit, so starting with a much longer essay will help you locate early on the most important and relevant information. You’re not going to write a successful CA essay in a day, so give yourself plenty of time to write the best essay you can.


Narrative. Think about how your favorite stories pull you in. Do they start with a person on a journey, or in a specific moment in time? Do the same thing in your CA essay. Consider how to talk about what matters to you in story form. This can take a lot of hard work and initial brainstorming, but essays that show a change you’ve undergone or a before and an after can often engage with your audience in more meaningful ways.


What doesn’t:


Sharing too-personal details. Students often fear that the CA essay is a confessional style essay, in which your most personal moments have to be on display. They don’t! This year, an essay circulated on the internet that had gotten a girl into all of the Ivies. What did she write about? Her experiences shopping at Costco. It wasn’t what she wrote about, it was how she wrote it and what she had to say.


Having a lot of life experience to draw from. Again, there’s no reason you need to have traveled extensively or undergone any major life changes in order to write a compelling essay. You only need to write about something, someplace or someone that has meaning in your life.


Knowing what you want to do in the future. You don’t need to know your future major, or even your future school, in order to write a great CA essay. Your essay doesn’t need to be pointed toward your future career in order to be a strong representation of who you are and what you want to do in the world. Talk about values that might matter in the way you make your way through the world now, rather than the direction you might go in later.


Contact Hughes College Prep today for one-on-one help with the CA essay and all your college essays. We can help you through every step of this process in a way that works for you and your writing.