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Writing Your Common Application Essay: How to Answer Prompt #1

Just about every spring, our email and voicemail inboxes get flooded with questions about the newly revised Common Application essay prompts. While summer break often means surfing the ocean waves or taking a family road trip, millions of high school scholars tackle their college admission essays. If you plan to write an effective essay, it’s time to familiarize yourself with each of the types of essay prompts. The common application essays include seven options, with three revisions and two all-new topics. No matter your essay topic of choice, it’s time to rethink your approach to conquering this summer’s essay challenge.

In this installment of our series on Writing the New Common Application Essay, we’ll look at prompt #1 (if you’re not a fan of the first prompt, check out our thoughts on prompt #2, prompt #3, prompt #4, prompt #5, prompt #6, and prompt #7):


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.

Prompt #1 asks students to tell their stories, and rightfully so. It gives you the chance to figuratively bring your application to life. After all, there’s much more to you than your GPA, activity list, test score, and a few recommendations. This prompt is focused on diversity; the committee wants to know more about what makes you unique, your life’s passion and even how you define yourself in your community and in society as a whole. We’re looking for you to share how your background has shaped who you are today. We want to be inspired by your hobbies, creativity and even discovery of hidden talents. While it might seem that this prompt calls for some lofty language and larger-than-life experiences, there’s one simple thing that can make your essay stand out from the rest… substance. Committees want to know what’s meaningful to you, and how these meanings might fit into their next class of scholars. Your mission—should you choose to accept it—is to write your most genuine narrative yet. Here are the top 5 questions you should ask yourself when mind-mapping prompt #1:

1) What makes you different from everyone else? – Think about things that make you special and separate you from the typical student. For example, an admitted applicant wrote about how his uncanny rhyming ability inspired him to start monthly open-mic poetry nights at his high school. This not only showed the committee initiative and leadership, but they were sold that he would be a rare addition to the college’s English and Linguistics program.

2) What are you most passionate about? – While this question is often labeled as one of the most popular in an admission interview, it’s time to revisit your passions through a story-telling lens. A student once recounted the story of repairing his grandfather’s antique television set, revealing his passion for technology, history and family. In all your brainstorming, decide on what your passions really say about you.

3) What’s most important to you? – This question goes much deeper than what makes you unique or even your passions. The committee wants to know what you value. Jot down important isms in your life. These could be words like naturalism, individualism, freedomism, etc. Reflect on these isms and categorize them into life situations and experiences you’ve had. What makes these values so powerful to you, others and the world around you?

3) Can you imagine your life in a picture? – Rather than scribbling every word that comes to mind, it may be time to sift through the old photos (whether dust-covered scrapbooks or Facebook albums) that could represent your life in a snap shot. What story do these pictures tell? An admitted applicant penned the story of how she found comfort after a close-family loss through teaching middle schoolers how to snowboard. She paired her love for the mountains and educating students with vivid adjectives as imagery and ultimately captured the hearts of the admissions committee. Just as pictures are worth a thousand words, use your writing to show who you are rather than bogging your audience down with a list of likes and interests.

5) What will your meaningful life-story bring to the prospective college community? – This is by far the question left most unanswered by students writing for all prompts. While committees are excited to get to know you better, don’t miss the focus of the entire application process – to earn a sport in the incoming class. Never leave the admissions committee hanging. Take the guessing game out of the conclusion of the essay and tell the reader how what you shared connects to your goal of being admitted into to their institution. For example…How could you use your athletic talents to contribute to both the collegiate sports and local service programs? How does your diverse, multilingual background fit into the college’s commitment to global scholarship? Answering this question takes a good amount of time and research. It may prove the toughest, but will make your essay a delightfully-worthwhile read.

Along with using these tips to jump-start your journey to acing the new Common Application Essay prompts, it’s most important to start your essays as early as possible. If you’re considering hiring an expert to guide you through the process, Veritas Prep offers hourly and school packages convenient for high school students on the go. Take a look at our FAQ page to find out more information about our college-admission consulting services, or give us a call or email to let us know how we can help you conquer the college application essay!