Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills

How to Write Common Application Essay 7 topic of your choice


How to Write 2018 Common Application Essay 7: Topic of Your Choice

How to Write Common Application Essay 7 topic of your choiceWhich Common Application prompt should you choose? In this seven-part series I’ve been helping you answer that question. We’ve come to the final prompt. (Phew!)

For the complete list of 2018 Common Application essay questions click here.

Ready for #7? Let’s do it!

Common Application Essay Prompt #7

Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Is this Prompt for You? Answer Yes IF:

  • The other prompts don’t speak to you.
  • You’re inspired by another school’s prompt.
  • You want to ask and answer your own question.
  • You’ve already written an essay that showcases you as an excellent college candidate.

how to write 2013 common app essay

Pitfalls to Avoid

  • Don’t Stress Over this Prompt. This prompt is meant to reduce your stress, not add to it, says Scott Anderson at The Common Application. Anderson adds, “Topic of your choice doesn’t mean default choice.” If the prompt feels too unstructured use one of the other prompts.
  • Don’t Submit Less Than Your Best. If you’re submitting an essay you’ve already written, make sure it’s well written and showcases you as an excellent potential college student.
  • Don’t Forget the Fundamentals. Prompt #7 doesn’t provide as much guidance as some of the other prompts. So this a good time to recap what schools look for in a Common Application essay:
    • Your writing skills
    • Your ability to communicate your ideas.
    • Your personality – what makes you laugh, think, hope, dream, care. In other words, what’s meaningful to you and why.
    • Schools like to see how you think, so show them that process.
    • Most of the best essays don’t have nice, easy stories. They’ve got an obstacle thrown in your path, a problem you need to solve, a decision you have to make, a realization you came to, or some other circumstance that’s helped shape you into who you are.
    • Essays include reflection—you need to be able to take a step back from your experience to understand how it’s shaped you and/or your goals.

Example of Successful Essay Topic

I had a student, James, who loved the novel The Stranger, by Albert Camus. The title character, Meursault, is estranged from the world, indifferent to society and unaffected by feelings.

So James wrote an essay in which he has a conversation with Meursault. In it, he counters Meursault’s view on the world. Instead of being unaffected, James tells Meursault that he attempts to live a purposeful life. He tries things for pleasure, like teaching himself to cook, because trying and learning give him a better understanding of the world. He tells Meursault about the joy of learning music. He talks about how he designed his own science experiments, and how he learned that, if you soak chicken bones in hydrochloric acid, they’ll bend at 45 degrees without breaking. No information is useless, James stresses to Meursault. At the end of the essay, he tells Meursault that he will always be glad he’s forged his own path and that (unlike Meursault) he has lived life to the fullest.

Why Does this Essay Succeed?

This topic didn’t fit into any of the other prompts, so prompt #7 was the natural choice.

James uses the conversation to show how he’s the opposite of Meursault—he cares, he’s involved, he’s eclectic, he’s engaged. The reader gets a clear sense of his personality, his intellectual curiosity, and his zest for life. It’s creative and original. These are all qualities colleges will like to see.

A Word in Support of Some of My Favorite Prompts from the University of Chicago:

If you’re still looking for essay inspiration, check out the University of Chicago’s essay prompts. UChicago prides itself on uncommon, fun essay questions. They encourage thought and reflection. And they always bring to light interesting aspects of the writer that might otherwise remain hidden. You might decide to answer one for the Common App or invent one of your own. Read the ones I’ve listed below to see how, with a little imagination, you can create your own question and let your imagination and personality fly.

A Sampling of UChicago prompts:

  • Joan of Arkansas. Queen Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mash up a historical figure with a new time period, environment, location, or occupation, and tell us their story.
  • History and art are full of heroes and their enemies. Tell us about the relationship between you and your arch-nemesis (either real or imagined).
  • How did you get caught? (Or not caught, as the case may be.)
  • Chicago author Nelson Algren said, “A writer does well if in his whole life he can tell the story of one street.”…Tell us the story of a street, path, road—real or imagined or metaphorical.
  • “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.”—Miles Davis (1926–91)
  • Susan Sontag said, “The only interesting answers are those that destroy the questions.” We all have heard serious questions, absurd questions, and seriously absurd questions, some of which cannot be answered without obliterating the very question. Destroy a question with your answer.
  • Click here to read more UChicago prompts.

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sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skillsSharon Epstein is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, teaching students around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into creative and memorable college application essays. I work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

Read the entire “How to Write” series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: The Lessons We Take From Obstacles
How to Write Common App Prompt #3: Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: An Accomplishment, Event, or Realization
How to Write Common App Prompt #6: Topic, Idea or Concept that Makes You Lose Track of Time
How to Write Common App Prompt #7: Topic of Your Choice


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What the CIA and Romance Novels Taught Me About Writing (Part 2) Keep it Simple, Stupid

Guest blogger: Joanna Novins

Since I have over a decade of experience writing and managing analysis for senior US policymakers and another decade of experience writing novels, reviewing manuscripts, writing cover and catalogue copy for a publisher of commercial fiction, as well as blogging and tweeting, what I’ve learned about writing couldn’t possibly fit into a single blog. So I’ve decided to craft a series of posts with what I consider the most important lessons.

In my previous post, I talked about writing for policymakers, book buyers, and college admissions officers. I stressed that they’re busy people facing a lot of choices and that it’s important to hook them with the first line. But once you’ve hooked them, it’s equally important get your point across clearly and concisely.

Keep it Simple, Stupid (K.I.S.S.)

I spent a great deal of my career working with the military and while I’m useless with a gun, grenade, or a compass, I’ve adopted the military adage “Keep it Simple, Stupid (KISS)” as my mantra when it comes to writing.

In my experience working with writers the more formal education you’ve had, the more difficult it becomes to keep your writing simple. Why is it more difficult? Because schools use the length of writing assignments as a measure of student progress. Indeed, one of the requirements to advance from elementary school to middle school is the ability to write a five-paragraph essay. By the time you’ve graduated from middle school, you’ve probably mastered the five-page report and are on your way to writing ten-pagers. As a senior in high school, you’re regularly knocking out 15 and 20 page reports.

You’re probably proud of your ability to write long papers.

And you should be. Writing longer papers means you know how to develop a thesis, research it, organize facts and ideas, and marshal them into a complex argument. Not to mention the discipline of planting your butt in a chair and getting it done. You’re probably also proud of your ability to use longer and more sophisticated words. After all, the ability to use longer, more sophisticated “SAT” words demonstrates that you’re not only well-read, but also able to grasp more nuanced concepts.

Now, all of a sudden, the college admissions officers want you to write short?  

Don’t panic. Writing longer words and sentences doesn’t make you a better writer any more than reading longer books makes you a better reader.
Consider the power of the shorter sentence:

  • I shot the sheriff” is better than, “I assassinated the local constabulary with an explosive projectile launched from a metal tube.”
  • Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” has more impact than, “To be honest Scarlett, I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with your whining, your manipulative behavior, and your incessant mood swings, so I’m leaving and it’s high unlikely I’ll be returning anytime soon.”
  • And this brief exchange between Bridget and Darcy from the film Bridget Jones’ Diary speaks volumes: “Wait a minute…Nice boys don’t kiss like that.”  “Oh, yes, they fu**ing do!

So how do you write short? Lose the padding!

  • If an adjective or adverb doesn’t make your sentence stronger, delete it.
  • If a modifying clause states the obvious (“as a high school senior applying to college”) drop it
  • If there’s a word that makes your point clearer (oncologist vs. doctor, gun vs. explosive metal tube) define it.
  • If a shorter word or sentence makes your point more powerful, do it.

Read the other posts in this series:
Part 1: The Hook
Part 3: Beware Disconnected Ideas

Joanna NovinsBefore turning her hand to writing commercial fiction, multi-published author Joanna Novins spent over a decade working for the Central Intelligence Agency. She does not kill people who ask her about her previous job, though she came close once with an aging Navy SEAL who handed her a training grenade despite warnings that she throws like a pre-Title IX girl. Joanna understands the importance of telling a great story, whether it’s about manufacturing solid propellant missiles, happily-ever-after, or how to present yourself.  She has extensive experience working with writers of differing skill levels, from senior intelligence analysts and published authors to aspiring authors and high school students. Joanna holds a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and was awarded a bachelor’s degree with honors in history from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.