The prompts for the 2021-2022 Common App essay have been announced, and there is a new one added to the list this year:
Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
Like so much about university admissions this year, the role of the essay in the process is the same, but different. The essay has long been a singularly important factor in the holistic review used by colleges and universities in the U.S. It is a student’s personal statement, an opportunity to express themselves to the admissions committee beyond the numerical metrics of test scores and grades. But at schools that have declared a test-optional policy or dropped standardized tests entirely from their application requirements, the personal statement now claims a more central place at the admissions committee’s table. It matters more than before.
There is lots to be said and done (and many more blog posts to write) to craft an effective essay. Summer before senior year is a great time to begin, and those weeks away from school may offer up the perfect experience to mine and write about. Here, in very abbreviated form, are some suggestions to help you think about the process.
Your personal statement is precisely that. It should be crafted by and about you, and should be an essay that no one else could write.
Your personal statement is not a resume, but rather, consistent with the prompt you choose, should help tell a part of your personal story. It shouldn’t reiterate what is already included in your application, but should express something that isn’t otherwise communicated, in a compelling and insightful way. It should complement the rest of your application, give it coherence, and complete it.
A common essay-writing axiom is “Show, don’t tell.” And while you're at it, try and show something that illuminates your character. After all, the purpose of the holistic review is to determine how a student would contribute to the community the university seeks to build -- whether a student will “fit.” The essay is where you make the case that you do. Take another look at the new essay prompt. It’s all about character: reflection, gratitude, and response. In a nod to the immense challenges facing students at this time, the Common App adds that the new prompt is "an invitation to bring some joy" to the application experience.
Think about your audience. Proceed carefully if you choose to write about the coronavirus pandemic, or another topic that might be well-worn, however genuinely important it may be to you. Indeed, the Common App has warned explicitly that the pandemic should be discussed in your application "only once," designating a 250-word optional space to do so. Admissions committee readers will have read thousands of essays in an application cycle. Try and make sure that yours makes an impression. Avoid the yawn.
Read very carefully the prompt you choose. Even a great essay may be tossed if it fails to answer the question.
University Bound has extensive guidance to provide about your university essays, and about how COVID has changed the admissions process.
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