Nov 12, 2021

7 Common App Essay Examples That Worked

Wordvice KH

What is the Common App Essay?

The Common App Essay is part of the Common Application admissions process and is used by over 800 colleges in the United States. The vast majority of all students applying to U.S. colleges need to complete the Common Application at some point.

The 2021-2022 application has six core prompts, one free-form prompt, one additional information section, and the optional COVID-19 prompt that appeared in 2020. The core and free-form prompts have remained unchanged for the past five years.

An important part of writing a successful application essay is reading Common App Essay examples that got students admitted to their schools of choice. Read on to see tips and outstanding essays for the six core Common App prompts.

Tips for Writing the Common App Essay

The best Common App essays are, in general, more personal than other essays. You need the admissions committee to pick you over another applicant, which they are more likely to do if you can create a personal connection through your writing. In other words, explore your feelings, explain how you approach situations, analyze how you come up with solutions to problems, and demonstrate how you make difficult decisions. 

Focus on a problem or difficulty you overcame

Exploring a problem or difficulty that you overcame can be one excellent way to show the admissions officer that you are just the kind of great student they want to admit to their school. Don’t only focus on the problems, though. Explain exactly how you got out of this situation and grew as a person as a result.

Show, don’t tell

Rather than telling the reader simply that you “love science,” prove it by describing how many hours you spend per week in your room reading science books. This can mean using a lot of concrete detail–the more vivid detail, the better, as it gives the admissions officer facts and personal characteristics they will remember when deciding whether to admit you or not.

Avoid using cliched language

Using a tired personal essay story is one of the most common essay errors writers make. After completing the first draft of your Common App essay, go through your writing to see if any cliches or antiquated language remains. Share your essay with a peer or editor and ask them to give you feedback on your language and tone.

Make your tone fit the goals of the essay 

Students need to make sure that HOW they are writing their essay reflects WHAT their essay is trying to convey to readers. For instance, if you are a straight-A student with no extracurriculars, you might want to use your essay to show the officials how much of a laid-back person you are in real life.

There are a few other common admissions essay mistakes you should avoid, and reading about these in advance might help you steer clear of making a fundamental error when it comes to choosing your application essay topic. 

Common App Essay Examples

We found some of the best Common App Essay examples from this year and years past to give you a sense of what kinds of essays work best to captivate admissions officials. We have listed essay examples in each section by their corresponding essay prompt to help you understand what kinds of responses are most suitable. Although your essay will be unique and might vary significantly from the examples below, read through each one to get an overall idea of

Common App Essay Examples: Prompt #1

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

This prompt asks applicants to write about what makes them uniquely them. Whether you’re writing about a hobby, your background, or how you define yourself, it’s important to tell a story so central to who you are that your application would be incomplete without it.

When answering this prompt, it’s easy to repeat information that’s already present outside of the essay. Avoid this at all costs. Remember: the essay is supposed to add a new dimension to an application.

See this sample essay to get a sense of what makes a great response to this prompt.

  • Handiwork – An essay about interest in creating crafts. This student expertly illustrates their dedication to a hobby by presenting anecdotes packed with sensory details.

Excerpt from “Handiwork”

I’ve always been a crafter. From the early days of Kindergarten macaroni ornaments, to making my own prom dress last year, I’ve had a knack for creating things. For drafting sketches, drawing plans, making calculations, gathering supplies, adding finishing touches. There is something so satisfying about holding something you, and you alone, have made—something that was just an image in your mind until you set about to bring it into existence, to create something new, something different. I’m sure there are hundreds of doll furniture sets out there in that same gray and pink, but there is only one with fitted (albeit with sloppy stitching) navy blue covers. There’s a sense of pride there, however small.

Common App Essay Examples: Prompt #2 

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

This is one of the more challenging prompts. It can be difficult to demonstrate strength and potential while writing about failure. However, if you’re comfortable with introspection and making yourself a bit more vulnerable, this prompt is a great option.

A good response to this prompt demonstrates a high level of confidence and maturity as well as humility and a willingness to learn. Simply writing about a failure does nothing; students should focus on how they handled their failures in positive ways.

These two essay examples demonstrate how to approach this prompt.

  • Striking Out – An essay about setback and overcoming obstacles. Note the effectiveness of this kind of narrative in showing your abilities and perseverance.
  • You Ruined My Life! – An essay about failure. As with the essay example above, this essay delves into the personal pain and trauma that many students feel at a young age. But the key difference, again, is that this author demonstrates how they overcame this sense of failure.

Excerpt from “Striking Out”

About a week later, some of my friends from the team got together at the park to hang out. When I arrived, I was a little surprised that no one seemed to be mad at me – after all, I’d lost us the game, and they had to be disappointed about not making it to the semifinals. It wasn’t until we split into teams for an impromptu pickup game that I started to realize why no one was upset. Maybe it was the excitement of reaching the playoffs or the pressure of living up to my brothers’ examples, but sometime during that game, I’d lost sight of why most of us played summer league baseball. It wasn’t to win the championship, as cool as that would have been. It was because we all loved to play. I didn’t need a trophy or a Hollywood come-from-behind win to have fun playing baseball with my friends, but maybe I needed to strike out to remember that.

Common App Essay Example: Prompt #3

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

This is an extremely broad question – students could write about nearly anything they have ever questioned. It is important to keep in mind, however, that not all ideas and beliefs make great essays.

Students should not write about something superficial; they should write about ideas and beliefs that are central to their identities. A response to this prompt should demonstrate thoughtfulness, open-mindedness, and an ability to think analytically.

The following two essays demonstrate what it takes to address this prompt effectively.

  • Athlete Poet – An essay about challenging a belief. Although not as salient as an obstacle or difficulty, a belief can be a strong motivator or detriment. This essay shows how one can overcome the challenges present in one’s own mind.
  • Gym Class Hero – An essay about challenging an idea despite all the odds being stacked against you. Note the author’s use of internal monologue to move the narrative along and captivate the reader.

Excerpt from “Gym Class Hero”

Where did my doubt come from? No one ever said to me, “Oh, you can’t run a mile.” I don’t even remember any askance looks, any raised eyebrows implying I was out of my depth. Middle-schoolers can be a cruel bunch, but not that day. There was just that voice in my head, as clear as a bell: “You’ll never be able to run a mile. You can’t even climb stairs without getting winded. It’s going to hurt. You’ll probably pass out. You could never run a mile.’ A whole mile? That voice was right. It was, in my mind, impossibly long. What was I going to do?

Common App Essay Example: Prompt #4 

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

This is the only new prompt for the 2021-2022 school year. According to the people at the Common App, this prompt was inspired by scientific research on gratitude and kindness, specifically the benefits of writing about the positive influence of other people in our lives.

While this prompt may seem to be asking a simple question, your answer has the potential to provide deep insights into who you are to the admissions committee. Explaining what you are grateful for can show them your culture, your community, your philosophical outlook on the world, and what makes you tick.

Common App Essay Example: Prompt #5 

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

All students have had experiences that helped them grow and mature, so prompt is a good option for most – if not all – applicants.

The key here is to choose the “right” accomplishment, event, or realization and then write about it in a way that showcases depth and self-analytical skills. When identifying a period of personal growth, try to stay within the past few years. You want to show the admissions officers who you are now, and a childhood story is not likely to accomplish this as effectively.

This essay is a great example of how to properly approach this prompt.

  • Student Teacher – An essay about an event that sparked personal growth. This essay example shows how demonstrating mental growth and wisdom can be just as effective as retelling how you overcame a difficulty. 

Excerpt from “Student Teacher”

Anthony’s success wasn’t just his plane. He had succeeded in making me aware of my own failures. Here was a student who was never taken seriously and had developed a bunch of behavioral issues as a result. I never stopped to look for his potential, discover his interests, or get to know the kid beneath the facade. I had grossly underestimated Anthony, and I am grateful that he was able to disillusion me.

I like to think that I’m an open-minded, liberal, and non-judgmental person. Anthony taught me that I’m not there yet.

Common App Essay Example: Prompt #6

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Like Prompt 3, Prompt 6 is very broad, allowing students to write about nearly any interest. The purpose of this question is to learn what excites and motivates an applicant. Therefore, this option is ideal for students with concrete and established passions. On the other hand, students who are not sure what they are enthusiastic about should probably consider a different prompt.

To approach this prompt, start by listing all the topics, ideas, and concepts you care most about and then narrow those down to those you can describe, justify, and explain.

See the following two essays to get a sense of what makes a great response to this prompt about passion for a hobby.

Excerpt from “Left and Right Don’t Exist”

Through flying, I began to consider all points of view, regardless of my personal perspective.

Perhaps it was my ability to scan the horizon to communicate a single story, uniting contrasting outlooks, that drew me to my love for journalism and the diverse melting pot that was my community.

To me, journalism modernizes the ancient power of storytelling, filled with imperfect characters and intricate conflicts to which I am the narrator. As editor-in-chief for my school newspaper, The Wildcat’s Tale, I aim to share the uncensored perspective of all students and encourage my editorial groups to talk — and listen — to those with whom they disagree. Starting each newspaper edition with a socratic, round-table discussion, I ask the other journalists to pursue stories that answer the questions: why did this happen and where will it lead?

How to Prepare Your Common App Essay for Submission

An outstanding admissions essay should have a great topic. However, it should also use clear, crisp, engaging language and be free of errors. If you require further help on this front, check out our admissions essay editing services. Such services are ideal for international students who struggle with English or any students who want to take their essays to the next level. 

Wordvice essay editors not only correct grammatical and stylistic errors but also provide suggestions on how you can improve the content of your essays. We were ranked best admissions essay editing service by Wired.com. Check out Wordvice’s admissions editing services to learn how our editors can elevate your writing and help you get into your dream school.

Wordvice Admissions Essay Resources

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How to Write an Admissions Essay to Get Into Top Schools

What All Top-Tier Colleges Look For: 5 Tips for Writing Your Admissions Essay