Approach the Common App in 5 Easy Questions

By a current Wesleyan student and Opus College Prep alumni

When the Common App question asked about my identity, I thought to myself my identity doesn’t quite make sense, or at least, I don’t quite understand it. How can I explain an identity I’m still grappling with and have not yet come to terms with? 

After discussing this challenging question with my amazing counselor from Opus College Prep, I realized that every other senior in my position, regardless of their stats or test scores, experiences the pressure of trying to shape their identity perfectly and concisely into a neat little package…impossible!  My life is messy. Let’s just say there are too many gaps where conjunctions simply won’t fit and I barely remember anything before the age of nine.

We all crave the special fingertips…the ones that know exactly which words to write as they venture to the surface of our keyboards. 

However, I soon realized that the urge to achieve “perfection” would only carry me further away from the true potential of my Common App essay. It is important to note that in the world of college applications, perfection does not exist. There are too many factors and intricate details that cannot be pinned to any idea of perfect. Well, actually, I suppose there is one way to achieve perfection. This is, however, the one and only exception to the perfect college essay that exists in the world of college applications. I should disclaim that it does not guarantee any specific result, but it does guarantee your best shot at revealing everything that it is you want the admissions committee to know about you. You must take the idea of perfect into your own hands and define it by your own standards. 

Questions to Ask Yourself About a “Perfect” Common App Essay

  1. If you were deciding on the admission of a student into your university, what would you want to know? 
  2. What would keep you intrigued, hooked, interested, wanting to know more? 
  3. What can you teach the reader? 
  4. How can you share about your own feelings and experiences?
  5. Where does the essay fall short, in your opinion? 

When taking a step back, you will realize you are indeed equipped with those magic fingertips. You hold more power than you might allow yourself to believe. Being confident in the college admissions process is invaluable. Whether you receive a college acceptance, rejection, or deferral, you might as well stop searching for what “perfect” means. 

Figure out instead what is authentic. An authentic essay feels and sounds like you! Once you do this, it will be easier to write your Common App essay with the intention of creating a collage of your life and your story. You see, a connected narrative or story might just add too much pressure and can push you to lean further back into a preconceived definition of “perfect” rather than your own definition of “real”.  A story has a beginning, middle, end. Preface? Maybe.  A narrative is expected to follow a clear and predictable structure. Yet, I can honestly say that my life has not had much structure. It has been and can be messy and confusing sometimes…much of the time. As much as I wish the events that have impacted my character development and my identity could be more organized, they simply cannot always find  an opening, a turning point, and a nice glow up able to be organized into a story. For me, writing the Common App taught me to come to terms with the idea that our lives are not the perfect story but rather a collection of pieces that come together in many shapes and forms to reveal something about ourselves. 

I am not saying that piecing together the collage of my own life story has been an easy task or that your efforts will be straightforward, either. But, it certainly helped me to consider the moving parts of my own life and put me in a better direction than trying to create the perfect story.

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