We post some of our favorite essays on our website in hopes that you’ll read them. They’re fun, interesting, and great examples of thinking outside the box. We also realize that they aren’t necessarily helpful to someone looking for actual tips on how to write their own essay.
The best and worst news is that there is only one requirement when writing your common app essay. It must be less than 650 words. That’s really it. The rest is up to you. This level of freedom can either be inspiring or daunting, and we get that. There are countless directions you could go in, but there are three things that we look for when it comes to an Ivy League essay, and we’ve broken them down below:
Creative Subject Matter
Remember the traditional five paragraph essay you learned how to write? Great. Now forget it. What you choose to write about for the common app essay is not a school paper with a thesis.
The best way to break form is to think of your essay as a story. You’re telling a story, not proving a theorem. You want it to be unique, fresh, and most importantly to help you stand out amongst a gigantic pool of applications. Admissions officers have read countless essays on any given day and by breaking form you’re providing a breath of fresh air.
Here are a few ways to break form:
Writing multiple scenes
Using dialogue to advance the plot
Writing in free form
Using deeply descriptive language
Playing with sentence structure
The above are just a few, but don’t be afraid to think creatively about different ways you can get your point across (and avoid the dreaded thesis statement.)
CREATIVE SUBJECT MATTER:
First things first, don’t write about anything you’ve seen online, heard worked for a friend last year, or have written about for school. It’s so important to brainstorm on your own and find a fresh topic that shows another side of yourself: what worked for someone else won’t necessarily work for you. On that note, you absolutely can not write about anything that appears anywhere else on your application. You don’t want to double down on any characteristics you’ve already proven, and need to take advantage of every opportunity you have to provide depth to your application.
Especially when applying to an Ivy, assume that every other applicant has the exact same resume and test scores as you. When you strip away the grades and extracurriculars, you’re looking for a way to humanize yourself.
Think small. This essay is about the little things that make you human and relatable: it’s easy to get overwhelmed and think you have to prove yourself with this essay (which you do) but at the end of the day there’s an actual person reading your submission and your ultimate goal is for them to gain a better understanding of how you think and who you are as a person.
Spend some time thinking about relationship dynamics and routines. If you’re really stuck, growth from failure can be an area to explore. We’ve also written about topics to avoid. Keep in mind that the point is not to simply write something beautiful. Good writing (and editing) is a must, but will not make up for a lackluster topic.
Full disclosure: it’s much harder to write comedy than it is to write tragedy. Humor writing also requires a lot of confidence. The person reading your essay has likely spent their day reading sob stories: students often try to make admissions officers feel something or prove their emotional depth. They’ve heard it all, and it’s exhausting. Most students assume that it’s easier to empathize if you’re getting pity points, but making them laugh is actually the way to go.
When we talk about humor writing, we don’t mean slapstick. It’s not a joke with a setup and a release.
We mean that the tone of the work can be funny, witty, dry, or sarcastic – but don’t make yourself the punchline. Avoid cringe worthy topics and think about a topic you could shed light on in a humorous way.
We know the stakes are high and that Harvard had an acceptance rate of 4.59% last year. We also know that the Harvard Lampoon is a 142 year old mainstay on campus, and we’ve had kids apply (and get in) to Harvard.
Feeling overwhelmed? Get in touch.