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7 Frequently Asked Questions about Writing College Admission Essays Answered

by Jocelyn Johnson, on Jul 22, 2021 11:59:31 AM

Summer is the perfect time to begin working on your college admission essays! But, during the summer, students usually have more questions about writing their Common App essay than answers. Wondering where, and how, to get started? Here are the answers to 7 of the most frequently asked questions students have about writing college admission essays.

The following is an excerpt from the Story2 Ultimate Guide to The Common App 2021-2022 Edition: Section by section tips, how to’s, and answers to FAQs.

Q: Where do essays fit in colleges’ decisions?

After grades and SATs, the essays are the most important part of your application.

Q: How do you fit everything important in 650 words?

You can't! In 250 to 650 words you can only write about one thing. It is much more powerful to tell one important story than to try to pack your whole life into 650 words. Anyway, that’s not what colleges are looking for. They know what the life of a typical high schooler is like. They want to find out how you are different and what you’ve made of that high school life.

Q: What do college admissions officers say I should write about?

There are no pre-set "good topics." Start with your own experiences, and use moments from within those experiences to show who you will be in college and in life.

Q: Hasn't anything I might write about already been written by thousands of other students?

Many students participate in community service. Many students travel. And many students play sports. But you are the only person who has had your experiences. Often the best essays come from common everyday moments that reveal your character and humanity. Take those general experiences and focus on moments that are really your own.

Q: How personal should the Personal Essay be?

Here’s a way to decide: if you were having dinner with someone whom you’ve just met, is this a story you would tell them? How would you tell the story if your goal is to continue the conversation? In our always-connected world, a lot of raw, overly candid writing circulates in cyberspace without much pause for reflection. It's important to be honest and genuine in your essays, to reveal what matters to you, and even to show times when you have made mistakes. But do not over-share, and do not discuss anything that you want to remain private. Whenever possible, shape your essays to show the reader how you have grown and changed as well as what you have learned and done as a result of these experiences.

Q: Why shouldn't I write about my awards or accomplishments?

Your academic awards and extracurricular accomplishments will show up in other parts of your application. Use each essay to add more insight and to reveal the thoughts, feelings, relationships, and motivations behind those accomplishments.

Q: How important is it that my essay be polished?

Admission officers look for authenticity, not slickly polished essays. It's much better to write in a voice that is your own than to iron out all of your idiosyncrasies—the latter results in an essay that sounds like it could be written by anyone. While you don't want to edit out your unique voice, you do want to proofread for spelling and grammar and take time to make sure the essays represent your best work.

Download the Story2 Ultimate Guide to The Common App 2021-2022 Edition for answers to college essay FAQs and tips on how to use Common App essays to connect with your top choice colleges.

Go to College Admission Essays Made Easy.

For more info about college admission and scholarship essays and interviews, sign up for self-paced courses and our award-winning StoryBuilder writing platform FREE. Want to stay up to date on the latest tips and resources? Follow us @story2 on Instagram!

Jocelyn Johnson is a graduate of Princeton (BA) and Harvard (MEd), Jocelyn worked previously as a counselor at Prep for Prep, Breakthrough NY, and Democracy Prep. A former coach and marketing coordinator for Story2, Jocelyn researched, wrote, and created the voice and tone for many of our most successful blogs.

Topics:college admissionscollege essayscommon app