How to Write a Good Common App Essay

Applying to a college may seem like a huge challenge. Indeed, a common application process is full of requirements, demanding tasks, and of course stress. On the one hand, there are formalities like GPA, achievements, and scores, which are impossible to change and make stronger at the time of application. On the other hand, there are so-called live tasks, such as tests and essays, which have a real-time impact on the application’s success.

One of such live tasks is the common app essay. It is based on the national Common Application system, which allows applicants to submit an essay to hundreds of colleges and universities at the same time. The approach highly resembles the one from a job application process, with the only difference being that here the purpose is education and the desired target is an academic institution.

In case you don’t know how to write a good common app essay, don’t know how long should the common app essay be, or are looking for an example of common app essay, the below guide is right for you!

Common App Essay writing

Common App Essay in a Nutshell

The most popular question that we regularly get from applicants is this one: ‘how long should the common app essay be?’ The common app essay is actually a very short essay type. Similarly to other application essays, its recommended volume is 300-650 words, which is from one to two pages depending on the font size and spacing. When it comes to formal requirements, you would be happy to know that they are not as rigid as with many other application tasks. Applicants are not restricted in the selection of fonts, sizes, or styles, including spacing and margins.

The only fixed formal requirement awaits you at the very beginning – the prompt choice. For instance, in the 2022 application, there were 7 different essay prompts (6 fixed ones and 1 open-topic prompt). The best part is that they are rather vague so that you can ‘fit’ your favorite topic into almost any of the available prompts.

For example, there could be such broad prompts as ‘Solving a problem’, ‘Share your story’, ‘A record of personal growth’, ‘The most demanding task for you so far’, etc.

To check the up-to-date requirements and the choice of prompts, visit the Common Application portal. There you can also find a good example of common app essay for inspiration.

Common App Essay Writing Guide

Take notes of our simple recommendations on writing a good common application essay and you will never have to experience stress and anxiety before applying to the college or a university of your dreams.

  1. Reveal your personality. Don’t be afraid to manifest your feelings and emotions (such as aspirations, motivation, values, and goals) when writing a common app essay. In fact, a rare example of common app essay is void of an applicant’s personal touch. The point is that an admission committee is not looking for another faceless and obscure piece of text, as they have plenty of those in each application process. Instead, they are looking for something different from an applicant’s dry achievements and scores. They want to see who you are beyond those grades and figures. So, give that to them!
  2. More does not equal better. If you are still worried about how long should the common app essay be, keep the following information in mind – it is the quality of your text that matters, not the volume. Most students, when they see an upper size limit of a writing assignment (e.g. 650), try to write close to that limit or even above that. This is a huge mistake! The shorter but crispier text has more chances of holding your reader’s attention and staying in their memory afterward. Try to focus on conveying your main point and telling your story, and only then count your words and edit your text.
  3. Your story is primary, while an essay prompt is secondary. What we mean by that expression is that you shouldn’t try hard to find the best prompt before you start thinking of what you want to convey in your common app essay. Always think of what story you can write best (which showcases your strengths, motivation, etc.), and only then start looking for the best matching prompt. For example, you have had a recent rewarding experience, where you had to face and overcome an obstacle. That story has left a profound trace in your memory and made a big impact on your personality by making you stronger, wiser, kinder, and so on. Once you are fully aware of which story you want to tell, start looking for an appropriate prompt from the requirements. In your case, such a prompt should read ‘Learning from obstacles’, or ‘Taking hits and becoming stronger’.
  4. The truth is not your best friend. It may sound surprising at first, but you don’t have to be honest and tell only the truth. After all, this is not a court trial or a church confession. None of the committee members knows you as well as to spot dishonesty or altering of the events. One example of common app essay that we always like to showcase to our readers contains complete fiction. Nevertheless, this is the strongest common app essay in our collection. If good imagination is one of your best merits, don’t be afraid to make up a great story for your common application essay.
  5. Avoid clichés and simple language. Don’t count on high grades if you like to use standard phrases and clichés in your writing. Contrary to the common belief, they have nothing to do with making you look more knowledgeable and clever in the eyes of application committee members. Standard things are boring and they don’t convey any additional meaning. Instead, they are eating up your text space. Besides, the use of parasite words and phrases puts you at a much higher risk of being accused of plagiarism.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a deadline for submitting my common app essay?

Yes, there are various deadlines in the Common Application. Usually, the program opens on August 1st, while the submission deadline depends on the type of application program: Early Action (the deadline of November 1st), Early Decision (somewhere in mid-January), and Regular Decision (1st of May).

Where can I find a good example of common app essay?

Examples of common app essay are easy to find online, although not all resources that display them are for free. Since you have plenty of time to write your common app essay, make sure you devote enough time to finding some good examples.

Are there any formal requirements for the common app essay?

No, the writing process is rather loose. Applicants are not restricted in format (margins, fonts, spacing, referencing style, etc.) or short of time. The only size guidelines recommend not exceeding the 650-word count limit, however, those are subject to annual revision. If you are unsure how long should the common app essay be in your specific application year, check out the official Common Application portal for up-to-date guidelines.

What is the structure of a common app essay?

The common app essay follows the same structure as a regular academic essay, i.e. the three-element composition: introduction, the main part, and conclusion. For such a short essay, the first and the last parts should not exceed one paragraph in size, while the middle, or the main part, should contain from 1 to 3 paragraphs at maximum.

Does the Common Application Committee check submitted works for plagiarism?

Yes, plagiarism checking is a big thing and certainly worth your attention. It is best if you write your common app essay in an external application (such as MS Word), check it for grammar and plagiarism issues using Google Docs and various online tools, and only then copy past your final version into the Common Application page and press ‘Submit’.