Common Application Personal Statement Essay: The Slippery Slope of Question #1


Students have a choice of five prompts when writing their essay for the Common Application. In 2015-2016, forty seven percent of applicants submitted an answer for question number 1, making it the most common essay submitted: “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.”

From essay drafts that I’ve read, question #1 has the slipperiest slope of the five. Writing college essays can put people in an emotional state. In responding to Question #1, students should watch for taking up precious word count describing other people and events of the past (such as parents’ divorce). Focusing on other people may prove a missed opportunity to submit an essay featuring the student. The majority of the essay spent on ideas such as ‘what did you did about an incident?’ and ‘what resources did you engaged?’ will prove helpful to college application reviewers.

My advice for students who want to write about a hardship in the past is to write if you must, and then set aside the essay. Spend time on another essay prompt describing who you are and differentiating yourself. When well rested, revisit both essays with someone you trust to be somewhat critical of your writing, and then choose which essay to submit.

Choice is good.

Michelle Machiele, mother of four, provides college admissions coaching and application advice. From her 2015-2016 students, 100% attend the college of their choice and 30% received generous scholarships. (This is the first blog in a series on Common Application personal statement essays.)