Common App Essay Struggles

Hi All,

My senior in AZ who has wonderful grades and did very well on his SAT is struggling with the common app essay. He does not seem to be able to write with passion about himself. So, he wrote about an experience he had with a trip to Boston where he visited college campuses and how it inspired a him to reach for his fullest potential. This would fall under the #5 question - Discuss an event that sparked a period of personal growth…

We thought it was okay, but he could do better. So he wrote another essay about his experience at Maine teen camp where he was stripped of electronics, had team building events, met kids from around the world, learned to trust others and was beginning to discover his purpose in life. This essay was worse in my opinion and felt forced and sounded mechanical in nature.

Last night he wrote an expository essay for an English assignment and writes about his trip to NY. It is full of life and vivid descriptions. I think it’s so much better than the other two, but it does not say much about who he is and his aspirations, but it shows the world through his eyes. In his closing sentence he says the trip gave him a new sense of understanding and respect for a different way of life. I suppose this essay could fall under prompt #7 - share an essay on any topic of your choice.

Do we go with the Boston essay where he was inspired by people to take more risks in life to reach his fullest potential or the NY essay which is a wonderfully written essay, but says less about him?

Appreciate your input. Thanks!

IMO the purpose of the college essay is: 1) to tell admissions officers something about the applicant that can’t be found elsewhere on the application and 2) to give admissions officers a reason to want to have the applicant on campus.

It is hard to opine based on your description. Perhaps he can re-work the NYC essay a bit to better suit the college application. Can he ask an English teacher who he trusts to read the top two choices and give some guidance?

@happy1 Thanks for your response. It’s helpful to keep that in mind. In some ways the NY essay does show how he thinks. So it’s abstract, but I think it does say a lot about him. He says his English teacher is too busy…not sure if that is true. I will push a bit harder.

Maybe he can re-work the essay a bit to show more of himself (how he thinks, why he would be an asset to a college etc.)? If I remember correctly my D took an essay she wrote in 11th grade as a starting point and then changed some parts so it became a better fit as a common app essay.

All he needs is a nice little narrative that shows growth, some impact, and some of the traits they want to see. You do not need to follow prompts exactly.

Bear in mind that this is about, “Show, not just tell.” So, not just, “I discovered my purpose in life…” Maybe, instead, how realizing xx led to actually trying yy, somehow moving ahead. Some illustration a reader can grasp and see. And, that’s relevant to what adcoms are looking for, in the college class.

It’s not meant to be expository. It’s not like writing for a hs teacher, who wants kids to learn to reveal their innermost thoughts. It needs to show what those college adcoms are looking for.

The risk in a NYC essay that concludes about “a different way of life” is appearing wide-eyed, perhaps a little sheltered. See if it can be re-worked to show, maybe, how he used the new energy in new actions he took on.

Engineering likes collaborative skills. Is there a way to work that in?

@lookingforward - yes, it is wide eyed…coming from the burbs in AZ where everything is brown, flat and spacious to NYC made quite the impact on him. I am trying to think how he can take some of this existing work to make it more about him. You can tell he has a mathematical brain when he makes comments like “People lived vertically, not horizontally” in reference to the skyscrapers. But, I may be reaching here since he dreads the thought of re-writing or writing a new essay. Such a challenge!

If you PM both --or just one–writings to me, I will offer a critique of each.

Much also depends upon the level of school to which he is applying as to whether an application essay will be effective in helping an applicant’s chance for admission.

@achouk that’s a wonderful observation. It could show he’s “thoughtful.” (That’s good.) But they’re looking for less reflection and more the traits that make a match/fit. All he may need to do is add a line or two.

@publisher That’s an incredibly kind offer. I have never sent a message to anyone in this forum. Is it possible to send attachments?

I am not sure. If unable to send an attachment via PM, just send the shorter of the two essays.