Though some schools (e.g., Wake Forest, UChicago, Brown) will have their own bizarre essay prompts, most college essays can be grouped into a type, the most common being:

The Personal Statement: The first essay prompt in the Common App is a perfect example of an essay that asks students to write about themselves. It goes: “Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”

When responding to this prompt, choose an experience or activity that played an important role in your life but that does not appear somewhere else on your application. For example, if your transcript and extracurriculars include a lot of orchestra classes and music prizes, do not write about playing the violin. Remember, the whole point of the essay is to show admissions officers a side of you that the rest of your application does not reveal. Show that you are multidimensional human being!

Your Favorite Activity: Choose an activity you are passionate about—be it a sport, random hobby (e.g. stamp collecting), or extracurricular activity (e.g. volunteering, hiking on weekends).

When responding to this prompt, think about what you do in your free time. Why is whatever you choose to write about your favorite activity? How do you feel when you are engaged in it? Show that you have a deep passion for something and that you have an intellectual understanding of it.

Why School?: This essay prompt specifically asks you why you want to spend your prime youth years at the college in mind. The prompt may ask: “Why is this college a good fit for you?” or “Tell us about your career goals and plans you may have for your studies.” This essay allows you to show your interest in the school and why you are a good fit.

When responding to this prompt, it is crucial to do a lot of research into the school and into the specific program you are applying to. Is the major or academic program unique from how it is typically offered at other colleges? Is there a specific course or curricula requirement which you’re itching to take? Does the department boast prominent researchers, some of whose work interests you enough to consider joining their team? Check out the website for your major’s department to get clues. Browse the college’s clubs listing and see if anything interests you. Is there an intramural sport you would like to join? Or an international club? By mentioning specific aspects of the university that appeal to you, you show that you put a good amount of thought into your application decision. So, be specific.

Here, you also want to show that if admitted, you would make positive contributions to the school community. Play upon your strengths. Are you a talented pianist who wants to join the school orchestra? Do you want to serve as a peer tutor in any subject(s)? Do you bring a fresh cultural perspective to the table? What would the school gain in accepting you?

Intellectual Curiosity: You may be asked to describe an idea, experience, or work of art that has been important to your intellectual development. When responding to this prompt, think about what some of your favorite subjects are. What do you enjoy reading up on in your free time? Is there a particular novel or academic text that  has inspired you to think differently? If so, how has it affected the way you see the world?

By: Andrea Schiralli

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