Dealing With the Most Common College Application Essay Prompt

Dealing With the Most Common College Application Essay Prompt
It's hard to get started writing the college essay application. The main reason is you have no idea what "they" expect. Let's face it, you've never written anything quite like this essay before.
So let me help ease you into the process with the most common application essay prompt. This prompt is the first out of five that you will find on the Common Application, and it is the most-often chosen: Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

One important step in writing the college essay, or any essay, is the pre-writing phase. The pre-writing phase is really thinking it through. No wonder people get hung up on this step and never easily proceed to the writing phase. If you don't know what people are expecting from you and you've never done this sort of thing before, how do you think about it? I hope this article will help you UNDERSTAND how to think about a college application essay prompt so you can get off on the right foot and actually start writing that essay.

Before you think about writing a response to the prompt, you need to read the prompt carefully. Actually, I recommend you read it three times: first, to take in the words; next, to understand what it's asking you to write to; and, finally, to pick up any nuances in the wording that might shade your response.

Let's read our most-oft-chosen college essay prompt:

Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

First reading: Take in the words: Evaluate; what does that mean? Also look at your choice of subjects: experience, achievement, risk, or ethical dilemma. Might that be only a sampling of choices, and could you maybe extend the choice to a tragedy or an adventure? Then there's the word impact. Whatever topic you might choose, it has to have impacted or affected you in some way. But, note there is nothing in this question that says how it impacted you; it could be a positive or negative impact. There's nothing that indicates what topic you should choose; it could be a learning experience or an academic or athletic experience. Last but not least is the word significant. What is the meaning of significant; it's rather vague. What's significant to me may not be significant to you!

Second reading: Understand what the prompt is asking you to write: It seems the prompt wants you to write about an experience that is important TO YOU and explain WHY it is IMPORTANT to YOU. Really you could choose any experience because it's YOUR perception of the experience which makes it significant. The prompt is not asking you to choose a "great" experience like a highfaluting job or trip. You don't need to feel that you have had to encounter some major risk or dilemma. No, the experience just has to have importance to YOU or have IMPACTED you. BUT, you are obligated to explain why this is a significant experience to you. It will not be enough to describe the experience. The reader has to understand why it's significant to you. So, obviously the focus is not so much on what the experience is but on why it is an important experience to you! Often, students answering or writing to this prompt think they have to impress with the experience, but what they are really being asked to do is explain why ANY experience is important to them.

Third reading: What's the nuance? The nuance is the insight you bring to the question. It's really wide open. The prompt is really asking what is important to YOU as a person. What makes YOU tick? How do you look at YOUR life and the experiences you have? this is a chnace to let them know who your are or what makes you different.

You are an individual. You are different. It's just that when you sit down to write a college application essay, you may not have the time to discover yourself and then put yourself into words. Or, you may be thinking: "They" want to hear how grand I am, what a wonderful résumé I have, or how great a student I am, so you forget to think about yourself as you are. NO! Your transcript, grades, recommendations, and all the other STUFF of your college application have done that job. The essay makes you human and tells the admission people if you can think, if you're a real person behind those grades, and if you will fit into the character of their student body. So you have to THINK YOURSELF, that is, think about you as you are and show that in your writing.

This next section will help you plan the approach for writing. Be an individual and don't take the well-worn path, but the path that has been "less-traveled" as Robert Frost would say. Here are some suggestions about really THINKING THROUGH the essay so you will have something to write about. These suggestions will also help you think as an individual, not the typical straight "A" student.

Find significance in small things. Look at your everyday life. After all, the college wants to know what you're all about. Do you wake in the morning to a certain kind of music, and why does that impact you? Did you find a soiled dress just before going on a first and terrific date and had to cope with the frustration, maybe desperation, of that? Have you solved a math problem in your homework that no one else did? Did you notice the first robin? Have you felt an unusual draw to your younger sister for the first time ever! Did you really taste your mother's best effort in the kitchen and appreciate it? Have you seen your mother look worried and, for the first time, notice she's not only your personal valet but a real person. All these tiny things can have major impacts that affect the way you see things, contribute to a more mature attitude, help you feel more confident, or show you how to treat others differently, any of which have a deep and important effect on you.

Try thinking in the negative or from a different point of view: Impacts can be less than positive. Maybe you have had an experience of failure. Perhaps you have seen that people you looked up to: friends, parents, teachers, are not always what you thought they were. Maybe you have disappointed yourself. You could describe these things. But, don't stop there. How did your negative realization impact you or affect you? Hopefully it wasn't all bad. They do say there's a silver lining in every cloud. Perhaps you learned to temper expectations or to try harder or you learned from a mistake. If the positive moral isn't you, could you see something else in your negative experience: something about the world being a place to watch out for, a realization you need to learn the system to make it work better, or that a social or commercial institution needs a well-deserved change? You can come at this essay without the typical gung ho or everything-is-beautiful approach and still have a meaningful expression of yourself.

Think outside the box: You may be an adventurous person, creative and unique. Then go wild! Even if you are more temperate in nature, it might help you to think wildly before writing because you never know what's inside you until you give it a chance to come out. Try to consider this essay prompt and the possibilities for a written answer in a totally new and unconventional way.

Take the idea of being disappointed in yourself. What if you told about that experience from another person's point of view? For example, maybe you fumbled a ball in a major game. How would your coach see it happen? What if seeing the first robin makes you see that the world is hopeful and you're an optimist? You could start your writing by describing today (maybe even as you are writing this dreaded essay with a light heart) and take your present feeling back to the day your saw the robin and knew you would always start things with a healthy attitude, telling your tale backwards. What if you told about an experience through you-as-a-achild eyes and then as you see it now? Could you compare an important experience to something that happened to you in class the other day and find the links? There really are many ways to go about your writing and many different ways to think through its impact on you.

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