Alright, ready to write your first Common App Essay draft?

First thing’s first: I want you to force yourself to sit down, uninterrupted, and write for at least 30 minutes. Then, take a break, then start back up for 30 minutes again. Do this until you run completely out of juice.

I know these time targets seem sort of arbitrary but there’s a method to this madness: These concentrated pockets of time spent writing is meant to discipline your mind to get used to writing a Common App Essay.

While you’re writing your first rough draft, keep in mind these 5 tips:

  • Highlight your personal brand message
  • Show how the story unfolds.
  • Write with an authentic voice
  • Write a hooky introduction
  • Finish strong with a positive, upbeat conclusion.

1. Highlight your Personal Brand Message in Your Common App Essay

Before you dive right into writing, do this: At the top of your document, write and highlight that one-liner personal brand message that will be the core of the story.

I don’t want you to forget these two very critical attributes that are make-or-break factors of a winning personal statement.

Keep these factors top of mind when you write your story.

2. Show how the story unfolds

When you tell a story, show your reader how the story unfolds.

Don’t tell your reader that a series of events simply happened and how it made you feel. Show the the reader the details of how the story unfolded.

You see, if you do a good job describing in detail how the story unfolded, then your reader will naturally feel how you were feeling in that moment.

In other words, you don’t need to explicitly tell the reader that you were excited. You should aim to paint such a vivid picture of the story that the reader will naturally feel excited for you.

In order to show how your story unfolds, be specific about the details of the situation.

Don’t say:
“I was excited when I led my basketball team to state championships.”

“The time was running out; I had no choice but to make the 3-pointer shot. I jumped, took the shot, and held my breath as the ball rolled slowly around the rim of the basketball net. I almost prayed for a slight breeze to push it into the net. Finally, the ball slowly rolled in — I made the shot! Everyone went wild.”

The second example is more fun to read, isn’t it? This is what you want.

Before you run off into the sunset, there’s a big but here.

Showing how a story unfolds is absolutely critical. But, don’t overdo it. If you overloading every sentence of your essay with adjectives in an effort to show, not tell, it gets hard to read and each unnecessary adjective takes up valuable word real estate.

The solution is to alternate between showing and telling.

3.Your College Essay Needs Your Authentic Voice

When you write, you might feel a need to be pedantic.

Fight this impulse. You don’t want to sound so stiff.

Harnessing an authentic voice is a little tricky. But, try this: Err on the side of using language that’s more casual than super formal. In other words, write how you would normally talk. This way, you’ll preserve your voice.

In later revisions, you can always change casual sounding parts of an essay. It’s harder to reinsert voice into an already dull sounding essay.

4. Write a Hooky Introduction

You need to jolt the admissions officer awake with a hooky introduction.

The introduction is the reader’s first impression of you. Seize it as an opportunity to make yourself stand out from the sea of other highly qualified applicants dying to get into to your dream school.

You see, there’s a chance that your admissions officer is drained from a day’s work by the time he gets to your essay. It’s absolutely critical that your writing shakes him awake, especially if he’s tired.

Make him want to read it.

To get your gears turning, here are five introduction ideas:

  • Begin with dialogue.
  • Start with a quote.
  • State a shocking, bold statement. Keep it appropriate, though!
  • Start right in the middle of a story.
  • Pose a question.

5. Finish Your Common App Essay With a Positive, Upbeat Conclusion.

The feeling you create at the end of your essay has a significant influence over how your reader remembers you.

So, you need to crush the conclusion if you want your reader to remember you on a memorable and positive note.

In your conclusion, make sure you bring your story full circle.

A good way to end your essay is by linking back to the original anecdote. Bring the reader up to date on how you’re handling the challenge or obstacle today. Or, you could simply make your main point in a fresh way.

It never hurts to add humor as a clever zinger, too. Experiment with this as long as it’s within the confines of the voice and tone of your writing.

For those of you writing your essays for The Common Application, here are the essay prompts!!