College application essays can be daunting. Questions like, "Where do I begin? What should I write about? Which essay prompt should I choose? How do I stand out? Should I write about this or that?" can make this process very confusing and overwhelming for students. What colleges don't tell you, however, is that there are TWO secret ingredients which
every college application essay absolutely needs.
The Common Application has seven different essay prompts for students to choose from when writing their essay, or "personal statement," as it's often referred to. The final question is essentially a free-for-all. In other words, you can write about whatever you want, as long as it is personal and gives the reader a sense of who you are. Other schools such as UC's, Cal States, and schools outside of California might also have their own specific essay prompt options as well. What if I told you that every single one of these essay prompts is really just asking the same exact 2 questions in different ways?
That's right. When attempting to figure out which essay prompt to answer, definitely consider it carefully - the questions are designed to take varying experiences/upbringings/environments into account, so choose the one that gives you the most opportunity to share something meaningful about yourself, especially if it's relevant to the program, major or job field you want to end up in. That being said, your essay needs to address two key questions, regardless of the topic you choose:
1. The first question you need to make sure you answer in your essay is can you learn? This is disguised in some of the prompts as "describe a time when you overcame a challenge" or "describe an instance when you were faced with opposing viewpoints" or "discuss a time when you challenged a belief or idea," or even just the ambiguous identity questions - they're really asking the same question underneath it all. Remember, you're applying to a school, which means you need to be able to learn, above all else. That being said, this is not purely academic. They want to know how you learned to overcome something difficult; how you learned to cope with tragedy, injury or illness; how you learned from your mistakes; how you learned about someone else's background or culture and accepted them despite your differences; how you learned about your own background, culture or influences. They're seeking open minds, which means you need to have learned to acknowledge, accept and admit when you are wrong and ideally use that experience to then better your own life, as well as the lives of those around you. If you're going to be representing their institution, they want to be absolutely certain that you're able to learn new things with an open mind.
2. The second question you must answer goes hand-in-hand with the first: How are you going to contribute to society now or in the future? Again, if you attend a college or university, the way they see it, you are representative of that institution for the rest of your life, including everything you learned while studying there. Every single school out there wants to admit students who have the potential to impact the community, city, state, nation, or even world in which they live in a positive way. This is similar to a job application - you need to convince the school that they need you, not the other way around. So how are you going to give back? If you don't know the answer to this, the
best place to start is by asking yourself what you see for yourself in the future, or what you value about yourself now. Many of us don't frame our dreams/goals around how they will affect others, but challenge yourself to answer that question. If you do not know what you want to do career-wise, what are your values? What are your favorite qualities/traits about yourself? How can those qualities/values help you make the world around you a better place? How can those qualities/values contribute to the progression/advancement of society? How can those qualities/attributes help even one other person outside of yourself? Answering these questions may be challenging for a number of reasons and that's okay - talk to someone you trust if you're unsure. We at Strongin Learning can help you answer these questions as well.
Once you've brainstormed and answered these two questions, that should guide you closer to your topic if you don't have one yet. There are many different ways to frame your topic around these questions, and many different topics that can apply to these (hence the various essay prompts colleges and universities provide you with). In addition to that, there are many ways to write your essay so that it stands out. If you have already written your essay, check to see if you've addressed these two questions yet. Trust me when I say, these are the ingredients that will make or break it. If you're still struggling to figure out what to write about, or how to write your essay creatively/in a way that stands out, visit us at our website or schedule a college app tutoring session! Strongin Learning is here to help with wherever you are in this process.