Are you ready to write your Common Application essay? Take this quiz and find out.
It’s a fun way to collect some important info before you sit down at the keyboard. Because writing a great college essay isn’t just about getting something written—you need to know what you’re writing and why.
Ready? Here goes—
- What’s the maximum word length of a Common Application Essay?
- Name at least three things colleges look for in a Common Application essay.
- How important is it to write about a big event in your life?
- Can you name at least three of your positive qualities?
- What’s sensory detail and why is it important?
- If you’re having trouble writing or finding a topic, where can you get help?
- Should you let someone read your essay when it’s finished?
- What if you’re not inspired by the Common Application prompts—are you stuck?
- Can you revise your essay after it’s been uploaded?
- Why is it important to capture your reader’s attention at the start?
- What’s the most important thing to do before you write?
- BONUS QUESTION: How many Common Application questions are there this year?
1. What’s the maximum word length of a Common Application Essay? 650 words. You can’t upload more than that.
2. Name at least three things colleges look for in a Common Application Essay. Colleges look for several things, including:
- Your writing skills
- Your communication skills
- Your personality on the page
- Some of your best qualities or values
- How you think or make decisions
- And often, what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown from your experience
3. How important is it to write about a big event in your life? Not at all. In fact, some of the best essays are about smaller moments in life. How do you find your smaller moments? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Have you made a decision or have a personal accomplishment not many people know about?
- Is there a hobby or interest that shows off your personality?
- Is there an object in your room, garage, or coat pocket that means a lot to you and has a story behind it?
- What do you do, or where do you go, when you’re curious and want to learn more?
- What do you think about when you’re by yourself?
- What do you dream about?
Keep thinking! Lots of ideas can make original, interesting essays and none of them have to be “big.”
4. Can you list at least three of your positive qualities? If you can’t, download my positive qualities worksheet. Schools want to learn about your good qualities and you can’t tell them unless you know.
5. What is sensory detail and why is it important? Sensory detail explains how something smells, feels, tastes, sounds or looks. Using sensory detail will make your essay pop–it will help it stand out and sound original.
Try this experiment with sensory detail: Think of adjectives that describe how your dinner tasted last night. The adjectives should convey a sense of taste. Here are a few: spicy, bland, warm, mushy. Now, think about the difference between these two sentences: “I ate meatloaf last night”/“The meatloaf was so dry it was crispy.” The first sentence says you ate dinner. But the second sentence lets your reader taste that awful meatloaf. Dry and crispy are examples of sensory detail. Using sensory detail will help transform your essay from bland to knockout.
6. If you’re having trouble finding a topic or writing your essay, where can you get help?
- You can find more info on my blog. Try starting with How to Start Writing Your College Essay.
- Look for resources in your school, like a writing center.
- Ask a guidance counselor or an English teacher who’s read a lot of essays.
- Read essays online for inspiration. I like Johns Hopkins because it includes comments from college admissions officers. Connecticut College is another good site.
- Google the school(s) you’re applying to. Many have admissions blogs with essay advice.
- Some students opt for private tutors (like me).
- And finally, don’t forget the library—there are lots of books that will give you step-by-step guidance.
7. Should you let someone read your essay when it’s finished? Yes, especially to proofread. Ask a teacher or adult who is good with writing (and with English if English is your second language). Ask for help even if you’re a good proofreader—mistakes are easy to miss. Another reason to share an essay is to get feedback. Just be aware that when you ask for opinions you’ll get them. So take all the comments into consideration and then choose what to add or change, if anything. Remember, it’s your essay.
8. What if you’re not inspired by the Common Application prompts—are you stuck? No. This year (2017) the Common Application includes a topic of your choice. You can create your own topic, answer another college’s prompt, or use an exceptional essay you’ve already written. This prompt is brand new, so it will be interesting to see how students respond.
9. Can you revise your essay after it’s been uploaded? Yes. You’re allowed unlimited edits to the essay after your first application submission.
10. Why is it important to capture your reader’s attention at the start? Your college reader has read lots of boring essays. Don’t be that person. Help your essay stand out. To learn three different ways to capture your reader’s attention, read 3 Ways to Start an Interesting College Essay.
11. What’s the most important thing to do before you write? Think. Give your brain time and space. Mull over ideas. Think in the shower, walking to class, or playing with the cat. Dislodge memories you haven’t thought about in forever. Get excited about what you love and what you care about. Only after you brainstorm should you sit down to write your Common Application essay.
Find your story. Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. She’s a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee who teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. I work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype, Facetime and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.