a year ago
Admissions Advice

how do you make an essay stand out?

i’m about to start writing my common app essay and a lot of the questions feel very open ended. i know that i have to be able to create a unique essay but i don’t really know how to make a topic stand out or avoid making my essay another run of the mill one. any thoughts?


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Accepted Answer
a year ago

There are tons of approaches that students take to make their essays unique. The one I find most effective is creating a narrative. Basically, turn yourself into a character from a book or video game- take the most important interests and character traits, and create a storyline of who you are.

For example, in my application, I boiled myself down to an interest in conservation and civic service and chose a few character traits to highlight such as being innovative, cheerful and energetic. Many of my essays combined my character traits to create a distinct idea of who I am.

The idea is because they're so open-ended, you can basically use them to say whatever you want and make yourself memorable to the AOs. There's a reason fictional characters are written with a few character traits, even though real people aren't like that at all. It's much easier to get a distinct idea of a person if they have a specific thing that differentiates them.

One of the best ways to do this is to take conventional topics and write about them in an unconventional way. Even if the activities or themes you mention are run-of-the-mill, make them different by focusing on an unusual aspect.

For example, I recently read an essay about a student's love for art, which began by talking about how, to them, California was yellow (autumn leaves, lemon trees, her blonde best friend) while China was red (her red scarf, Chinese lanterns, New Years envelopes). She goes on to talk about how painting allowed her to explore the emotion behind each colour, and connect them to form beautiful pictures. In this way, the student takes a unique approach to talking about her culture by tying it to a more unique interest- painting.

I know all the blogs say this, but to avoid a run-of-the-mill essay, think of what you could say that would make the AOs think, 'wow! This really shows me who you are- I can see your motivations, your interests, and even your personality through the writing' (although make sure the tone is appropriate and not too informal).

Hope this helps!

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