Updated: August 8, 2013 2:32PM
The new Common Application launched on Aug. 1 has made significant changes in the writing section over previous years.
The choice of six writing topics for the Personal Essay has been cut to five, deleting the popular “Topic of Your Choice” prompt. The word limit has increased from 500 to 650, which allows applicants to express their individuality, but more importantly to focus on analysis rather than simply describing the world around them.
Below are the five options for writing the Personal Essay:
Option No. 1: Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
Option No. 2: Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
Option No. 3: Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
Option No. 4: Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
Option #5: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
As a rule, I suggest that a client write about experiences that reflect their personality. Telling a story that shows self-analysis and introspection will help a college admissions office to remember who you are and what makes you an interesting person. One of the best ways to create a memorable essay is to write about yourself.
My favorite essays are coming of age stories — a sudden realization that, on some important level, an event changed their life and the way they thought about themselves. Many times this can be achieved by portraying a relatively minor experience that most likely would not find its way into a college application. It can be self-deprecating and witty.
One of my clients wrote about her experiences growing up in a small southern town. She thought her father didn’t love her no matter how she tried to please him. She couldn’t lose 20 pounds no matter how hard she dieted. She didn’t think she was as intelligent as reflected in her grades. She wanted to study psychology in college but her parents wanted her to study business.
One evening, feeling sorry for herself and with tears streaming down her cheeks, she jumped into her cobalt blue Mini Cooper and raced down the road and almost crashed. She gripped the wheel, slamming on the breaks just in time to avoid death.
Frank Sinatra was blaring on the radio, “I did it my way.”
Suddenly she realized she was acting like a selfish child, obsessed with her own problems, and not appreciating all the help and encouragement her parents and teachers had given her. The brush with death caused her to stop crying and feeling sorry for herself.
She came to the realization that she had responsibilities to other people who helped her all her life. She wanted to give back.
I could almost recite this story verbatim I found it so interesting. The student recently graduated from a top college and was accepted to Harvard Law School.
A student should strive to tell a memorable story about a noteworthy experience that changed their outlook on life and 650 words will allow plenty of space to tell that story.