Writing the 2017-2018 Common Application Essay: Prompt #1

October 27, 2020

hi this is Kevin with word advice thanks for joining us in our series on the common application essay today we will discuss prompt number one for the essay a meaningful background identity interest or Talent so let’s look at the prompt some students have a background identity interest or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it if this sounds like you then please share your story as you can see we’ve highlighted four terms and bold background identity interest or talent now though you should have by now probably brainstormed some ideas about what you’re going to write on this topic is so vast that today we’re going to try and narrow it down a little bit so let’s look at the four components the first one is background if you have perhaps a non-traditional background maybe you’re part of an ethnic group or you grew up in a disadvantaged area you have had a challenging upbringing or very unique perhaps you spent a year traveling the world with your family when you were young you might want to focus on that background identity is the second area that you can focus on maybe you are a member of an interesting subgroup or subculture so if you identify with a cultural or a national heritage that is different from the mainstream heritage of the society in which you live or maybe you’re an unlikely fan of a game or political affiliation that might be something for you to focus on here whatever it is that makes you you is what you want to show the admissions officer here now the next area is interest an esoteric or highly unusual area of interest is best to focus on for example if you love doing a horticultural you’re taking horticulture classes you might discuss about a garden project you’ve been working on or if you restore old model airplanes you might talk about what brought you to that behavior what brought you to that hobby and how it impacts your life and makes you who you are you want to talk about something that’s special or endearing something that’s special to you and that will endear the admissions officer to you as a person if you remember the purpose of the application essay is to give the admissions officers more information about you also if you are a member of an interest group or club that does productive activities goes out into the community this would be a great opportunity to focus on that perhaps again going back to horticulture if you have a gardening group or you are interested in a community clean up if this interests you you can show the officers how your productivity has impacted both you and the community and what you live the last interest or the last area that you can focus on for this prompt is Talent you should keep in mind that you don’t have to have an extraordinary ability you don’t have to be a world-class gymnast or have won a Chess Championship you can talk about a normal ability it could be a useful skill that benefits those around you or demonstrates creativity effectiveness or leadership skills maybe you’ve brought members of the community together on occasions to work on public projects or negotiated peace between members of groups at school or you could talk about how you’ve created and executed difficult projects abilities like these really show that you you’re not just doing something for yourself but you’re doing something to help those around you that’s going to be hugely beneficial to help you stand out from other applicants it could be something as simple as having a way of helping others if you were for example a math tutor or English or science tutor for those that lack the ability again this would show how you use your talent to help others you don’t want to focus just on how good you are at something for example if you are a world-class piano player talking about how you’re better than the other piano players is not going to endear the admissions officers to you rather showing how you’ve overcome difficulty with your talent or used it to benefit your life or the lives of others is really going to be something that will stand out in this essay so once you have chosen an area to write on a very specific area you will move on to your next step which is to pick a story you want to find a compelling story or anecdote to start your essay that illustrates a point you want to make about yourself and this should be a real life moment something that actually happened and when we say compelling we mean it in the sense of it should have emotion it should have a clear storyline even if it’s very short it should make the reader feel where you’re coming from what were your motivations and you know some sort of impact in your story you should have a problem and a solution for example if you chose the topic of an area of background and you spent a year with your family traveling Europe I’m sure even in that situation there were many problems in solutions the problem might be you didn’t have school for a year you weren’t allowed to socialize with your friends the solution might be that you learned how to overcome that you made new friends in other countries for instance so having a problem in a solution shows that you’re able to resolve difficulties in your life and create solutions for problems that you might have once you’ve picked a story and honed in on a little segment of your experience or background you want to think about creating an anecdote an anecdote is just a little story of compelling mini story that shows the details of your general story whether it’s your identity or your background so what you want to do is start in the middle of this story and taking that world trip for instance instead of discussing what you did before that what were the steps to plan that trip you know I was 13 when my parents decided to go on a trip I had to cancel classes ABC instead of structuring it like an academic essay better to think about it as a short fictional story where you start in the middle of the action for instance if you are talking about your ethnic identity as an important part of who you are you might pick a time when that identity created a crisis where you are confronted with something difficult that you had to overcome whether it’s a conflict with another person or whether it created any kind of difficulty in your life so start right in the middle of that period of your life and in doing this you will grab the reader’s attention like we mentioned before we have hundreds or thousands of essays that readers are that applicants will be submitting so if your essay grabs the attention of the admissions officer that’s going to be the one they remember and you’re going to be the one that’s in their minds when they’re deciding who to admit to their school after you’ve created an anecdotes you want to tell a back story you want to give the reader some history to let them know about the process now here’s where you can talk about what led up to for example your trip abroad for a year you want to stay focused on that trip though on that experience so if you’re discussing your vacation abroad or your your your abroad your education your experience you don’t want to stray into other social activities you focus on how that experience affected you and what you did to prepare yourself for it give lots of details so this is important both in the anecdote portion and in the back story so don’t be vague about it tell your age tell us give sensory details give your emotional feelings at the time talked a lot about how this experience impacted you informed your personality the last step in your essay is to finish strong and creating a conclusion in many people’s minds is just a conclusion is just restating what you said at the beginning that’s only part of it of course you want to link back to the beginning so for instance if you’re talking about your trip abroad you want to remind the reader that that was the seminal important moment in your life so in a conclusion you might say that moments when we arrived at the port in Greece and I knew nobody I didn’t speak the language I didn’t realize at the time that period in my life would shape by history which shaped the rest of my life in my destiny that would be a good example of linking that seminal experience to to your overall personality and who you are you want to think about the conclusion as a status update on social media we might say today I’m eating a hamburger or something so you’re giving the reader an insight into who you are right now so the anecdote the back story is your history the conclusion is where you are now and that should show the officers that you’re ready for higher education and to further prove your point being prepared for a higher education you can talk about your future goals how this experience has prepared you for study at University maybe for graduate school what are your goals after university if you have any show that you have ambition and that this moment is not just a moment in time it’s an experience and a background that is prepared you for future goals so let’s talk about some things to do on this essay and some things to avoid in this essay do make it personal it’s a personal narrative so you can include lots of pronouns such as I me we my our family my feelings you want to give the reader a sense of who you are how it affected you again provide lots of details sensory details what were the smells what were the sounds what were your feelings were you feeling anxious were you scared did you feel overwhelmed those signaling adjectives can really make the reader feel like they’re in your place which is exactly what you want and please do focus on personal growth again you’re showing how you’ve grown because of this background this identity this talent this experience you want to show how it has made you into the full person with the GPA with the test scores that you are today here are some things to avoid in this essay avoid just telling your story show it you’ve heard of the axiom show don’t tell that means in your anecdote for instance you can show dialog with quotation marks instead of just saying my teacher was upset you might say my teacher told me we don’t want people like you in this class you know that really shows the concrete details of the situation and puts the reader in the place of the narrator which is you avoid boasting or bragging too much especially if you focus on talent again if you choose an interest or talent show how that talent made you a better person show how it impacted your growth and always remember on any of these essay prompts narrow it down you’re not trying to give a summary of your life in 650 words or less you really only have time to give the details and the impact of one area one experience in your life so there is your overview of prompt number one for the 2017-2018 common app essay if you have any questions or would like more information visit