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  • Writer's pictureSusan Treadwell

The Common App Essay: How Do You Choose A Prompt and Topic?

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. That's not going to be the best way to choose a prompt and topic for the Common App essay. Just sayin'.

So how should you go about making your choices? Get clear and specific about who you are what matters to you.

Clarity is the foundation of your authentic writing voice.

Students often think they have nothing important to say. Or they mistakenly believe they should write about something dramatic or shocking. They simply don’t trust their own thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Your writing voice is a reflection of all your experiences, and how you’ve processed them. No one else has lived your life, so it’s your job to communicate who you are and what you’re all about.

Before choosing a prompt and topic, do the self-exploration that will lead to the best choices for you.

Get in sync with your beliefs, attitudes, feelings, ideas, traits, goals and vision. Take the time to reflect on meaningful experiences. Notice themes that keep popping up. What do you value, and why? Click on The 6-Step Guide for creative writing exercises.

Then, review your pre-writing so you can choose a Common App prompt that connects to the story you want to tell in your essay. What do you want a college to know about you as a person?

Here’s some essay advice from Cornell University that gets right to the point, and is relevant for all students:

In your essay, help us understand your thoughts and feelings about something that is important to you. We are interested in the topic you choose, how you develop your idea, and how well you express yourself.

The topic matters. Choose a prompt that allows you to go into depth in a meaningful way. Notice the potential areas of focus in the seven Common App prompts. Decide which one gives you the best opportunity to tell a compelling story.

Do the pre-writing research and exploration. Get to know the colleges, and get to know yourself – in written form. Then, off you go!

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