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The Common Application Essay Prompt 1: What’s Your Story?

by Tyler Nakatsu, on Jul 12, 2019 12:00:00 PM

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We huddled in the alley, in the rain, by the emergency exit of The Comet. “Five minutes guys,” yelled the stage technician, peeking his head outside the door. We were on the bill but because we weren’t 21, we could only be inside the venue when we were playing. Practicing everyday after school for months, spending weeks recording, mixing, and mastering, failing, arguing, pounding until we had material that we enjoyed landed us a show. At school, what we dedicated our everything to was only celebrated annually at the poorly attended talent show. But that didn’t mean we didn’t work everyday to reach the vision we had, which was about to take center stage. “Okay let’s go,” the tech said as he threw the door open. Pausing for a second before walking inside.

Common Application essay 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. 

The Common Application personal statement is meant to be straightforward and engaging, so don’t over-complicate them! The instructions ask you to reveal something that distinguishes you or sets you apart from others in your own voice. They are not asking for something elaborate, but something uniquely your own.

The first question--which Common App member colleges say is the most popular and the most useful--allows you to write about any moment that has shaped who you are as a person (even if it's standing in the rain). It’s the simplest to answer because it is the most straightforward and most capacious: really, you can write about anything important to you.

Here are three steps to conquer the first Common Application essay prompt:

Step 1: Find a Moment. This is not a time to tell your whole life story. Whatever is that big thing that “shaped who you are as a person,” explore specific moments that show when you changed, grew, or made a difference. Start by making a list of moments when something changed; moments that show how your unique story unfolded.

Step 2: Tell a Story. Once you have a moment you want to write about, tell your story out loud--this unlocks your creativity, activates the specific memories of your story, and starts the process in your authentic voice.

Step 3: Keep it in the World. Most of us think about our life in broad, generic brush strokes that sound like many other people. “My parents were first generation college students,” I often say. To connect to your reader, you want to work sentence by sentence to replace those general ideas and things that lots of people can say with specific details.

Want more tips for Common App essay prompts? Check out our Guide to the Common App.

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Topics:High School and College

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