Writing a Great Common App Essay: 10 Do's and Don'ts

Application season is about to be officially underway, which means rising seniors around the nation are about to embark on one of the biggest pieces of the application--the college essay. Writing the Common App essay can strike fear in the hearts of some students. The broad, open-ended topic selections are welcome for students who enjoy creative writing or know what story they want to tell; for others, such freedom can be stressful. No matter which topic you choose, a few handy do's and don'ts can help you craft a winning Common App essay:


  • Make sure the essay sounds like YOU (not your brother, not a thesaurus, and definitely not your mom)

  • Choose a topic that is interesting or meaningful to you

  • Use the essay to show off something about yourself that isn't on your resume or the rest of your application

  • Consider highlighting a small moment or memory that ultimately reveals something bigger about yourself

  • Be aware of overused topics (travel abroad, mission trips, big sports win/loss)


  • Make your essay sound too formal (this means writing like you are writing a report or trying too hard to sound intellectual)

  • Choose a topic just because you think it's something the admissions officers will want to hear

  • Regurgitate your activities or resume

  • Get advice/feedback from too many people; this can make an essay wind up jumbled or unfocused

  • Be generic, cheesy or cliché