How to Start Your Common App Essay

Kelly Granger 
Edited by Sophia Patane
Published on
August 2, 2023

The summer before senior year is a hectic & stressful time. Between summer jobs, pre-college programs, classes, and internships many students feel in over their heads when it gets to application season. I, like many rising seniors, feel the same; but over this summer I have taken steps to ease the stress of college applications for myself. To have a relatively stress-free application process, make sure your personal statement is something you feel confident in. Your personal statement represents you to your admissions counselor, who presents your application to the board. The personal statement is the piece that ties your application together. 

An excellent personal statement hooks the reader in. You may have seen those TikTok videos of seniors talking about their college essays that got them into their “dream schools.” These essays almost always include a powerful hook as the first sentence. A hook can range from a quote to a description of an experience, but whatever it is, make sure it’s engaging. The easiest way to do this is through creating a narrative. When creating a narrative, look for a metaphor or event that is a microcosm of your life and personality. This microcosm should be expanded upon and connected to reasons that make you unique to colleges. 

Stop treating your personal statement like an essay assignment. Your personal statement is supposed to be specific to you. The easiest way to judge this is by getting a third party to review your essay. Make sure to ask them the question: Does this sound like I’m the only person that could write this? Your personal statement should include specific traits and experiences that you’ve had, not generalized ones that everyone has gone through in some form or fashion. 

Write multiple essays and drafts. When brainstorming for your personal statement, you may have many different ideas of what to write about. To narrow down your options, pick 3 ideas and write a draft of each. Whichever draft is the strongest is the one you should continue. Remember to self-reflect while writing: What essay is the easiest to write? Which essay was the most fun to write? Which essay is the most personal? Your personal statement should be reflective and easy to start. Finding a hook and continuing to tie in metaphors will be difficult, but if you have the right topic, your essay contents should flow easily. 

Seek help even if your questions are small. Some school counselors are swamped with students and duties, so make sure to take advantage of any time you have with your counselors this fall semester. Compile a list of questions about your personal statement, and if they know you well and have time, ask them to read it. If you don’t have a good relationship with your counselor, start to build one incrementally this semester. Schedule small meetings and email lists of questions to them whenever you have time. 

College admissions counselors are your best advocates when it comes to your personal statement. Your regional admissions counselor will be the person to present your application to the college. This is the last person who can advocate for your acceptance. Once you are done with your essay, I advise students to send a copy to your admissions counselor. Make sure to send an email prior so you can ask if that is okay, but if it’s in the clear, send it. Hearing their feedback can only help you! 

Writing college essays can be difficult, but if you start early, get second opinions, and keep it simple, you will deal with a fraction of the stress that your classmates will. Good luck rising seniors! 

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