Six Pieces of Advice for your Common App Essay

By: Caroline Koppelman

Don’t forget to keep the narrative structure

The college essay is a story, not a book report. You want to create characters and a plot arc that readers can follow along with. Much in the same way you would tell your friends a story about something that happened, you don’t want to go straight to the take home points. Instead, build up the story so the reader is emotionally invested and wants to know more.  The story should come to a head and pay off for the reader. 

Never tell what you can show

Dialogue and character development are better ways to convey a story than simply recounting events. If a character can say or do an action you don’t need to narrate it in the 3rd person. 

Mind your transitions

Each paragraph should flow into the subsequent without jumps in either story or logic. You’re not arguing a point in this essay, so the paragraphs should not be distinctive topics. Think of new paragraphs as ideas that flow in a logical order from the preceding one. Since this is not a book report or academic essay, you don’t want to have topic sentences. 

Don’t worry about length

For your first draft you shouldn’t think about the 650-word limit. Write down everything that comes to mind. It’s easier to edit things down than it is to create more material. 

You don’t have to start with the introduction

Introductions and conclusions are often the hardest to write and can stifle the writing process. Start your essay in the middle if you need to and just run with it. After you flesh out the body of the story you’ll have a better idea of where it should begin and end. 

Don’t be wedded to one essay

Despite what you may have heard, your first idea isn’t always the best. If you’re sitting at your computer for days and you can’t figure out the point of your essay, go back to the drawing board. It doesn’t matter if you’ve already put five weeks into it—sometimes the best ideas come to us at the last minute.