How to Start a Common App Essay

The hardest part of any writing project is the first sentence. Staring at a blank white page can be terrifying, especially when the stakes are as high as getting into your dream school. One of the things we do at TKG is guide students through writing stellar college essays, but there are some things you can do at home to help you get through that initial rut.

Bullet It Out

When you’re first mapping out what you’d like to say, bullet points are your friend. Make a list of what soft-skills and personality characteristics you want to showcase in your essay (things like creativity, kindness, or tenacity) and start creating sub-lists under each one with stories that come to mind when you think of those words.

Write an Elevator Pitch

Know what you want to say, but unsure of how to say it? Try writing a 1-sentence explanation of your essay starting with “My essay is about…” Include key details and a few plot points without turning it into a run-on sentence. This is all about being concise!

Map Out the Details

We are huge proponents of thinking small. Big “boom”-style essays may seem great in theory, but the admissions office will learn the most when the essay is about you, not some chaotic event that you get swallowed up in. Take some time to write the tiny details that will form the setting for your essay. Maybe this means describing the tree in your yard, the ceramic frog on your desk, or the way the glass on your broken iPhone screen scratches against your cheek.

Write a Scene

If you’re confident in the details, try writing a scene. Not necessarily a play or film-style scene (although we’re all for that), but a scene like you’d read in your favorite novel. Where are you? What are you surrounded by? What is the weather, the time of year, the day of the week? Are people talking? If so, what are they saying?

Stop Stressing About Word Count

The number one thing kids stress to us about before they even get started is word count. Yes, there is a max, but you shouldn’t be thinking about word count at all until you’ve finished your first draft. After that, you can scale up or cut down as needed. Until then, chill.

Still stuck?

Try one of these writing prompts to break out of your funk:

Write at least 200 words answering one of these questions:

  1. What is on your desk in your bedroom?
  2. What is your first memory?
  3. When were you happiest?
  4. What is something you are excited about?

Looking for more hands-on help? We’d love to help you out!