Common Application Essay Examples 2020, Best Guide!
Common Application Essay: For the 2020 application cycle, the Common Application essay prompts remain unchanged from the 2018-19 cycle. In this article, I’ll provide advice on how to break down these prompts, organize your thoughts, and craft a strong, meaningful response that the admissions committees will notice.
Common Application Essay: What Makes a Great Common App?
A great Common App essay is, first and foremost, deeply personal. You are relying on the admissions committee to choose you over someone else, which they are more likely to do if they feel a personal connection to you. In your essay, you should delve into your feelings, how you think about situations/problems, and how you make decisions.
Good essays also usually avoid cliché topics. A couple of overdone themes include an immigrant’s journey (particularly if you’re Asian American), and a sports accomplishment or injury. It’s not that these topics are bad, but rather that many students write about these subjects, so they don’t stand out as much. Of course, some students can write a genuine and unique essay about one of these topics, but it’s hard to pull off. You’re better off writing about more nuanced aspects of your identity!
You should also, of course, pay close attention to your grammar and spelling, use varied sentence structure and word choice, and be consistent with your tone/writing style. Take full advantage of the available 650 words, as writing less tends to mean missed opportunities.
Finally, it’s a good practice to be aware of your audience – know who you are writing for! For example, admissions officers at BYU will probably be very religious, while those at Oberlin will be deeply committed to social justice.
How your Common App Essay Fits with Your Other Essays
The Common App is one part of a portfolio of essays that you send to colleges, along with supplemental essays at individual colleges. With all of your essays for a particular college, you want to create a narrative and tell different parts of your story. So, the topics you write about should be cohesive and complementary, but not repetitive or overlapping.
Before jumping in to write your Common App essay, you should think about the other schools that you’re writing essays for and make sure that you have a strategy for your entire portfolio of essays and cover different topics for each.
If you have strong qualifications on paper for the colleges you are targeting, the best narratives tend to humanize you. If you have weaker qualifications on paper for your colleges, the best narratives tend to draw out your passion for the topics or fields of study that are of interest to you and magnify your accomplishments.
Strategy for Writing the Common App 2020-2021 Essays
Because the Common App essay is 650 words long and has few formal directions, organizing a response might seem daunting. Fortunately, at CollegeVine, I’ve developed a straightforward approach to formulating strong, unique responses.
Common Application Essay Examples for Each Prompt
For sure. Here are some of my favorite sample essays, with a bit of analysis on why I like each one so much.
Prompt 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.
When I was very little, I caught the travel bug. It started after my grandparents first brought me to their home in France and I have now been to twenty-nine different countries. Each has given me a unique learning experience.
At five, I marveled at the Eiffel Tower in the City of Lights. When I was eight, I stood in the heart of Piazza San Marco feeding hordes of pigeons, then glided down Venetian waterways on sleek gondolas. At thirteen, I saw the ancient, megalithic structure of Stonehenge and walked along the Great Wall of China, amazed that the thousand-year-old stones were still in place.
It was through exploring cultures around the world that I first became interested in language.
It began with French, which taught me the importance of pronunciation. I remember once asking a store owner in Paris where Rue des Pyramides was. But when I pronounced it PYR–a–mides instead of pyr–A–mides, with more accent on the A, she looked at me bewildered.
In the eighth grade, I became fascinated with Spanish and aware of its similarities with English through cognates. Baseball in Spanish, for example, is béisbol, which looks different but sounds nearly the same.
This was incredible to me as it made speech and comprehension more fluid, and even today I find that cognates come to the rescue when I forget how to say something in Spanish.
Then, in high school, I developed an enthusiasm for Chinese. As I studied Chinese at my school, I marveled how if just one stroke was missing from a character, the meaning is lost.
I loved how long words were formed by combining simpler characters, so Huǒ (火) meaning fire and Shān (山) meaning mountain can be joined to create Huǒshān (火山), which means volcano. I love spending hours at a time practicing the characters and I can feel the beauty and rhythm as I form them.
Interestingly, after studying foreign languages, I was further intrigued by my native tongue. Through my love of books and fascination with developing a sesquipedalian lexicon (learning big words), I began to expand my English vocabulary.
Studying the definitions prompted me to inquire about their origins, and suddenly I wanted to know all about etymology, the history of words. My freshman year I took a world history class and my love for history grew exponentially. To me, history is like a great novel, and it is especially fascinating because it took place in my own world.
But the best dimension that language brought to my life is interpersonal connection. When I speak with people in their native language, I find I can connect with them on a more intimate level.
I’ve connected with people in the most unlikely places, finding a Bulgarian painter to use my few Bulgarian words with in the streets of Paris, striking up a conversation in Spanish with an Indian woman who used to work at the Argentinian embassy in Mumbai, and surprising a library worker by asking her a question in her native Mandarin.
I want to study foreign language and linguistics in college because, in short, it is something that I know I will use and develop for the rest of my life. I will never stop traveling, so attaining fluency in foreign languages will only benefit me. In the future, I hope to use these skills as the foundation of my work, whether it is in international business, foreign diplomacy, or translation.
I think of my journey as best expressed through a Chinese proverb that my teacher taught me, “I am like a chicken eating at a mountain of rice.” Each grain is another word for me to learn as I strive to satisfy my unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
Today, I still have the travel bug, and now, it seems, I am addicted to language too.
Analysis + Tips:
- This essay uses the Montage structure and uses two things—travel and language—as the thematic threads to tie things together.
- Some of the core values this author shows (not tells!) in his essay are an adventure, culture, curiosity, attention to detail, history, abstract thinking, human connection, and others too!
- This essay is also a Type B essay in that it discusses the qualities that he believes will serve him in his future career. Here’s a step-by-step guide to writing the Type B essay.
Prompt 2: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
They covered the precious mahogany coffin with a brown amalgam of rocks, decomposed organisms, and weeds. It was my turn to take the shovel, but I felt too ashamed to dutifully send her off when I had not properly said goodbye.
I refused to throw dirt on her. I refused to let go of my grandmother, to accept a death I had not seen coming, to believe that an illness could not only interrupt, but steal a beloved life.
When my parents finally revealed to me that my grandmother had been battling liver cancer, I was twelve and I was angry–mostly with myself. They had wanted to protect me–only six years old at the time–from the complex and morose concept of death.
However, when the end inevitably arrived, I wasn’t trying to comprehend what dying was; I was trying to understand how I had been able to abandon my sick grandmother in favor of playing with friends and watching TV. Hurt that my parents had deceived me and resentful of my own oblivion, I committed myself to preventing such blindness from resurfacing.
I became desperately devoted to my education because I saw knowledge as the key to freeing myself from the chains of ignorance. While learning about cancer in school I promised myself that I would memorize every fact and absorb every detail in textbooks and online medical journals. And as I began to consider my future, I realized that what I learned in school would allow me to silence that which had silenced my grandmother.
However, I was focused not with learning itself, but with good grades and high test scores. I started to believe that academic perfection would be the only way to redeem myself in her eyes–to make up for what I had not done as a granddaughter.
However, a simple walk on a hiking trail behind my house made me open my own eyes to the truth. Over the years, everything–even honoring my grandmother–had become second to school and grades.
As my shoes humbly tapped against the Earth, the towering trees blackened by the forest fire a few years ago, the faintly colorful pebbles embedded in the sidewalk, and the wispy white clouds hanging in the sky reminded me of my small though nonetheless significant part in a larger whole that is humankind and this Earth. Before I could resolve my guilt, I had to broaden my perspective of the world as well as my responsibilities to my fellow humans.
Volunteering at a cancer treatment center has helped me discover my path. When I see patients trapped in not only the hospital but also a moment in time by their diseases, I talk to them.
For six hours a day, three times a week, Ivana is surrounded by IV stands, empty walls, and busy nurses that quietly yet constantly remind her of her breast cancer. Her face is pale and tired, yet kind–not unlike my grandmother’s.
I need only to smile and say hello to see her brighten up as life returns to her face. Upon our first meeting, she opened up about her two sons, her hometown, and her knitting group–no mention of her disease. Without even standing up, the three of us—Ivana, me, and my grandmother–had taken a walk together.
Cancer, as powerful and invincible as it may seem, is a mere fraction of a person’s life. It’s easy to forget when one’s mind and body are so weak and vulnerable. I want to be there as an oncologist to remind them to take a walk once in a while, to remember that there’s so much more to life than a disease.
While I physically treat their cancer, I want to lend patients emotional support and mental strength to escape the interruption and continue living. Through my work, I can accept the shovel without burying my grandmother’s memory.
Prompt 3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
For over two years, my final class of the day has been nontraditional. No notes, no tests, no official assignments. Just a twenty-three minute lecture every Monday through Thursday, which I watched from my couch. Professor Jon Stewart would lecture his class about the news of the day, picking apart the absurdities of current events.
The Daily Show inspired me to explore the methods behind the madness of the world Stewart satirized. Although I’d always had a passion for the news, I evolved from scrolling through Yahoo’s homepage to reading articles from The New York Times and The Economist.
I also began to tie in knowledge I learned in school. I even caught The Daily Show inexcusably putting a picture of John Quincy Adams at a table with the founding fathers instead of John Adams! Thanks, APUSH.
Clearly, The Daily Show has a political slant. However, Stewart convinced me that partisan media, regardless of its political affiliation, can significantly impact its viewers’ political beliefs. I wrote a psychology paper analyzing the polarizing effects of the media and how confirmation bias leads already opinionated viewers to ossify their beliefs.
As a debater, I’ve learned to argue both sides of an issue, and the hardest part of this is recognizing one’s own biases. I myself had perhaps become too biased from my viewing of The Daily Show, and ultimately this motivated me to watch CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, allowing me to assimilate information from opposing viewpoints.
I embraced my new role as an intellectual moderator in academic discourse… at my friend’s 17th birthday party. It was there that two friends started arguing over the Baltimore riots. One argued that the anti-police rhetoric of the protest was appalling; the other countered by decrying the clear presence of race discrimination still in the country.
Both had their biases: the friend who argued on behalf of the police was the son of a police officer, while my friend who defended the protests personally knew people protesting in Baltimore. I questioned both on their positions, and ultimately, both reconsidered the other’s perspective.
However, I began to wonder: was I excusing myself from the responsibility of taking a position on key issues? Perhaps there are times that I shouldn’t merely understand both sides, but actually choose one. In biology, for example, we studied the debates over evolution and climate change.
Is it my role, as an informed student, to advocate both sides of the debate, despite one side being overwhelmingly supported by scientific evidence? Maybe I must sometimes shed my identity as Devil’s advocate and instead be an advocate for my own convictions.
Although I don’t have a news (or fake news) network where I can voice my opinions, I look towards further assessing my own viewpoints while maintaining my role as an impartial academic debater. I am eager to delve into an intellectual environment that challenges me to decide when to be objective and when to embrace my bias and argue for my own beliefs.
Prompt 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.
The 90-degree summer heat beat down on my shoulders, but that was the least of my problems. A six-year old boy had just disrupted a yellow jacket nest by the lake and children were getting stung left and right.
If it had been any other summer I would have sat back and let an adult take care of the problem, but as the only camp counselor in the vicinity, I was suddenly the closest grown up around.
Luckily, the last month at camp had already taught me several essential skills to handle this situation effectively, including acting decisively, keeping others calm, and maintaining a positive attitude.
Just two weeks earlier, my campers and I arrived at the outdoor art class right on schedule. To my horror, however, the art teacher was running late and I now had 45 minutes to fill on my own.
That may not sound like a long time to some people, but when you’re trying to entertain 12 little boys on your own, it can feel like a lifetime. Rather than losing control of the situation and letting the kids run amok, I quickly pulled together a plan.
We started with a nature scavenger hunt followed by some free form art. I set out paint, glue, glitter, feathers, and other supplies and let them have at it with the items they had collected in the woods. A quick decision led to a morning full of imaginative play.
By the time afternoon rolled around at camp each day, I usually saw one of two scenarios: worn down campers ready to go home, or wound up campers with energy to burn. One day, the latter scenario was compounded by a late day rain shower.
Indoor space was limited, and several groups of kids were crammed into a small aerobics studio. Believe it or not, the best solution to this problem was a friendly game of camper vs. counselor dodge ball.
The kids loved the camaraderie of ganging up on their counselors and they got to run off that extra stamina with a focused physical activity. This taught me that sometimes the best way to calm kids down is to actually embrace their energy.
As a camp counselor, a positive attitude is practically a job requirement. No matter how hot the day or how tired the kids, I helped them keep up their spirits by implementing a simple rule: if we’re walking to an activity, then we’re also singing.
We went on a lot of bear hunts and yelled quite a few “boom chick-a booms,” all of which helped the kids forget about the long trek across the field to archery and instead get lost in song. This technique also helped them focus on walking to their destination, resulting in less chiding from me about staying in line.
These three events prepared me for the ultimate challenge: a mass bee sting of my troupe where at least half of my children got stung. I quickly instructed my campers to find their respective buddies and head straight to the bus at the top of the hill.
From there, I had the driver contact the camp office to get the nurse ready for our arrival. Although the lake was just a five minute drive from the main camp, I filled the time with my silliest songs to distract the kids from their stings. There were fortunately no major reactions and the camp director even allowed for a special treat of ice cream from the camp kitchen to soothe the situation.
While that day was one of my scariest as a camp counselor, I also found it to be one of the most successful and rewarding days as well. In many ways, it felt like a rite of passage into adulthood as a true caretaker rather than a child.
Whichever prompt you chose, make sure you are looking inward. What do you value? What has made you grow as a person? What makes you the unique individual the admissions folks will want to invite to join their campus community? The best essays spend significant time with self-analysis rather than merely describing a place or event.
The folks at The Common Application have cast a wide net with these questions, and nearly anything you want to write about could fit under at least one of the options.
If your essay could fit under more than one option, it doesn’t matter which one you choose. Many admissions officers don’t even look at which prompt you chose they just want to see that you have written a good essay.
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