Last week I introduced you to the new Common App essay prompts. If you missed the post, here it is.
At the end of the post, I said I would share some tips on how to approach each of the prompts. Without further ado, let’s talk about prompts #1 and #2 and in my next post we’ll talk about prompts #3, #4 and #5.
Prompt #1: Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
This is what I call a “big-picture” prompt because it’s about you and your identity. It’s a topic that you can completely whiff on if you don’t pay attention to the keywords. First, whatever background or story you are going to share has to be CENTRAL TO YOUR IDENTITY. This means the story needs to be something big, something that has shaped you as a person, something that sits at the very core of who you are.
The second set of keywords, YOUR APPLICATION WOULD BE INCOMPLETE WITHOUT IT, is just as important. This means that, without telling this story, colleges aren’t going to understand the full picture of who you are and why they should admit you.
So, write down the prompt and then start making notes on everything that makes you who you are. What are your VIPS and how did they come to be that way? Has anything happened in your life – again, big-picture ideas here only – that an admission counselor should take into consideration? Remember, you’re trying to let them in on something about you that will help them say “Yes!” to your application.
Prompt #2: Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
This prompt is all about making lemonade out of lemons. So let’s keep keywords in mind here as well. First, AN INCIDENT OR TIME WHEN YOU EXPERIENCED FAILURE. Here, you’re being asked to talk about a time that you took a risk or tried something and failed at it. However, it’s the second set of keywords HOW DID IT AFFECT YOU and WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN that form the foundation of what you are going to try to do with this prompt.
Because what you’re not going to do is go on and on about the failure itself. In fact, you should briefly introduce the failure and then spend the bulk of your essay talking about how it affected you and what you learned from it.
I like this topic because who hasn’t failed at something in their lives?
Just don’t dwell on the failure itself. Instead, focus on how something positive came out of it. Again, you’re asking an admission counselor to say “Yes!” to your application and an essay that is focused on a negative outcome isn’t necessarily going to help your cause.
Next week I’ll talk about essay prompts #3, #4 and #5. Stay tuned…
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