How to Write your Essay for Common App Prompt 5


This is your chance to share a story about becoming an adult. This “coming of age” essay focuses on one key accomplishment or event that caused you to become more mature, or to be seen as an adult in the eyes of others.

Here is the Common Application Prompt 5:

“Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.”

Key Tips and Pointers

  • “Becoming an adult” has many different meanings. Above all, it means that your culture, community, or family begins to see you as a more responsible member.
  • Choose one situation in your life that illustrates your transition into adulthood by taking on greater responsibility or a more adult role.
  • Focus on only one event or accomplishment.
  • Brainstorm a list of the ways in which you changed as a result of the story you are going to tell. This is a reflective essay.

You can approach writing Common Application Prompt 5 in four easy steps:

  1. Start with a hook by giving a vivid description of the event or accomplishment that caused you to “grow up.” Show your storytelling skills.
  2. Continue by describing the outcome of the event or accomplishment. Did you win an award, or master a new skill? Perhaps you took your first job or began to volunteer and became a leader.
  3. Explain why your story shows your transition to being perceived as an adult by either your culture, your community or your family.
  4. End by reflecting on how this experience influences who you are today, as a college applicant.

If you need help writing your Common App Personal Essay for Prompt 5, you might want to install this Google Docs add-on. The add-on provides example essays, writing tips and smart phrases for all Common App prompts conveniently inside Google Docs.

How to Write your Essay for Common App Prompt 4


This is your opportunity to present your problem solving skills and your ability to plan and take action. Here, you will focus on explaining your critical thinking process from start to finish.

Here is the Common Application Prompt 4:

“Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma–anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.”

Key Tips and Pointers

  • This essay can focus on either a problem you have actually solved, OR a problem you would like to solve in the future.
  • Choose a problem that is meaningful and has a measurable impact on your life or on the lives of others.
  • Identify the steps required to solve the problem in the order they need to be taken.
  • Have a clear “solution” in mind: how did you know when the problem was resolved or what would be the outcome in solving the problem?

You can approach writing Common Application Prompt 4 in four easy steps:

  1. Start by describing the specific problem you solved or intend to solve. Clearly explain why this is a “problem” and who (or what) the problem impacts.
  2. Explain why this problem is meaningful and why it is “worth solving.”
  3. In chronological (sequential) order, explain at least three steps required to solve this problem. Think of these steps as actions that must be taken towards a solution.
  4. End your essay by describing how the solution has a positive impact. Stay positive and focus on the best possible outcome.

If you need help writing your Common App Personal Essay for Prompt 4, you might want to install this Google Docs add-on. The add-on provides example essays, writing tips and smart phrases for all Common App prompts conveniently inside Google Docs.

How to Write your Essay for Common App Prompt 3


This is your chance to share a story about your ability to take action by challenging a belief or idea. The most important part of this essay is to explain the ACTIONS you took and to reflect on the results of your actions.

Here is the Common Application Prompt 3:

“Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?”

Key Tips and Pointers

  • Start by choosing ONE belief or idea that you challenged. This can be a belief or idea held by yourself or held by others.
  • Carefully explain both why and how you challenged the belief or idea. Both are essential to your story.
  • Remember that this essay shows your critical thinking skills and your ability to follow through on a cause. Maintain a confident voice and take pride in your actions.

You can approach writing Common Application Prompt 3 in four easy steps:

  1. Start with a “hook” by describing the situation that prompted you to act.
  2. Describe your thought process about choosing what to do.
  3. Explain the action that you took to challenge the belief or idea. This can include taking a stand by speaking, writing a letter or confronting a person or a group of people.
  4. Conclude your essay by directly stating whether or not you would take the same action again. Reflect on why you would–or would not–make the same choice as the person you are today.

If you need help writing your Common App Personal Essay for Prompt 3, you might want to install this Google Docs add-on. The add-on provides example essays, writing tips and smart phrases for all Common App prompts conveniently inside Google Docs.


How to Write your Essay for Common App Prompt 2


This is your opportunity to share your problem-solving abilities as well as your resilience. Your future institution is eager to learn how you react to setbacks and challenges.

Here is the Common Application Prompt 2:

“The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? “

Key Tips and Pointers

  • Start your essay in the middle of the action. In this case, start with a “hook” by first describing your experience of failure. Do not be afraid to be “intense.”
  • Be specific about why this incident represents a “failure.”
  • Include at least three key details of your experience of failure. Details can include describing who else was involved, describing your emotions or using pieces of dialogue.
  • Before you write, jot down some of the specific things you learned as a result of this failure. Avoid generalizations such as “I learned perseverance.” An example of a more specific response is: “I learned how to remained focused and optimistic by seeking a mentor.”

You can approach writing Common Application Prompt 2 in four easy steps:

  1. Brainstorm the times in your life when you have failed at something. Choose to write about the failure that had the biggest impact on your life.
  2. Use descriptive language to explain what happened, and exactly how you responded.
  3. Include one ACTION that you took in response to the failure. It is important that your institution sees your problem-solving skills.
  4. End with a self-reflection on the experience. Explain why this failure was fundamental to who you are today, as a college applicant.

If you need help writing your Common App Personal Essay for Prompt 2, you might want to install this Google Docs add-on. The add-on provides example essays, writing tips and smart phrases for all Common App prompts conveniently inside Google Docs.

How to Write a Personal Statement

You’re finally a senior! (or will be one soon!) While everyone will tell you this is the time of your life, you’re also probably too overwhelmed with the dreaded college application process to enjoy your newly minted status as big man on campus.

The pressure is on to craft a memorable, concise, knock-your-socks-off personal statement to go along with your college application. Depending on the requirements of the college you’re applying to, you’ll probably have to keep your college essay somewhere between 200 to 650 words. You’ll be tasked with using this short assignment to convey so much about you–all the information that your test scores and transcripts can’t convey. How are you different from the sea of other applicants?

Sound daunting? It should. But fear not! We’ve got your back. With a few tips from us and some mental elbow grease from you, your mailbox should be filling up with acceptance letters in no time. Here are some tips:

Stay on topic

Maybe your prompt is open-ended: “Tell us about yourself.” But it’s probably more narrow: “Why Stanford?” The Common Application or “Common App” (its more popular moniker) which is used by over 600 independent colleges nationwide, has five different prompts to choose from, but maybe your school of choice has only given you one essay prompt. Or maybe you’re faced with a doozy like one of these from the University of Chicago–known for provocative/kooky essay prompts. Whatever topic you’ve been given: be sure to specifically answer the prompt or question.

Think hard

No, really. That sounds silly, but do it. Listen, we know you worked hard, got good grades, and did all the right extracurricular activities–but frankly so did all the other applicants. You need to think long and hard about what sets you apart from the crowd. (This is the dreaded prewriting stage of course, which can often be more than half the battle when tackling any writing project.)

Start strong

Your personal statement will land on the desk of an admissions officer that will be sifting through stacks and stacks of essays, and you’ll want to grab his attention right away with a strong introduction. Here’s where you’ll dig back into all the great writing craft lessons your English teachers have shared with you throughout your high school career. Share an anecdote, moment, or memory that will grab your reader’s attention right off the bat.

Be yourself

Don’t go through mental gymnastics trying to decide what you think they want to read or want you to say. It may sound trite, but honesty really is the best policy. If you take the time to really dig deep and soul search for a personal topic that reflects who you really are, your essay should start to fall into place.

Keep it simple

This is a tough one. You have to inspire the reader of your essay to want to meet you with just a few hundred words–that’s not easy. Remember that admissions officer with stacks and stacks of college essays to read? You don’t want to stretch his patience with a rambling story about your childhood.

Proofread, proofread, proofread

And then proofread again. And finally, ask a family member or a teacher to proofread for you.

And finally, don’t do this.

Go on, write an amazing college essay!

Essay Writing: To Entertain, to Inform, or To Persuade

When you were taught how to write an essay, you were told that you need to keep in mind all of the rules for punctuation, grammar, and spelling.. Following the basic essay format (introduction/body paragraphs)/conclusion) is a given as well.  However, there is one more skill that should be covered: audience and purpose. While the two terms differ a bit in definition, together they create something very important. When writing an essay, it is important to ask WHY are you writing this and WHO are you writing it for? The answer to the first question depends greatly on the answer to the other one.  Let’s explore this further.

The WHY of an Essay

WHY does a person write an essay? Typically the purpose of any piece of writing falls into one of three categories: to entertain readers or tell them a story (narrative writing), to inform readers about a topic or idea (expository writing) or to convince readers to do or think something (argumentative or persuasive writing).  A narrative essay typically includes characters and dialogue, as well as conflict and resolution. An expository essay includes facts and figures, as well as a logical order or sequence, while an argumentative essay features reasons, arguments and claims.

Here are some typical examples for each essay format:

Narrative Essay Expository Essay Argumentative Essay
Personal Statement or College Essay Newspaper or magazine article Book review
Short story Research paper Letter of recommendation
Mystery or horror story Blog post on how to do something An advertisement
Biography or autobiography News report Movie review

The WHO of an Essay

In addition to knowing the purpose of an essay, however, you should give some thought to their audience. WHO is this essay written for?  Is it friends, relatives, or some group within the general public? For example, if you are writing an expository essay about the advantages of the latest generation of smart phones, you need to stop and think about what your readers already do—or don’t—know about the topic.  Friends might have a much higher comprehension of what these phones can do than their parents do.  Knowing the audience of the writing will guide you in knowing what facts, terms, and jargon need to be explained and which ones do not.  

In narrative writing,, knowing the audience helps you choose the story’s plot and details.  For instance, a story written for a group of 10-year-old summer campers or for a room full of 70-year-old nursing home residents would most likely emphasize much different details.  

In argumentative or persuasive writing, knowing the audience is probably the most essential. If an essay is written to convince people to do or believe something, it is vital to know what opinions they might already have.  In other words, writing an essay on why the 2015 Star War’s “The Force Awakens” is the best film in the franchise might be met with enthusiasm in peer readers, but those who stood in line to see the first film in 1977 may need a lot of convincing to agree.

Knowing how to write an essay (grammar, spelling and organization) is  important, but remember that so is the why and the who!