Tag Archives: common app essay

Do I need to share past trauma in my college essays?

As the college application process becomes more competitive every year, students are looking for ways to make their applications stand out from the rest. One way to do this is by writing a compelling personal statement that showcases their personality, strengths, and achievements. However, there is a common misconception that to write a successful personal statement, a student must have experienced personal trauma or hardship. This is simply not true.

 

While it’s true that some students may have experienced personal trauma that has shaped them into the person they are today, this is not a requirement for writing a strong personal statement. In fact, many successful personal statements are about everyday experiences, hobbies, or passions that have shaped a student’s character and influenced their goals and aspirations.

 

It’s important for students to understand that personal story that highlights the hardships that they may have faced does not define them or their ability to succeed in college. Admissions officers are looking for students who can contribute to their campus community, and who have the potential to succeed academically and personally. A personal statement is an opportunity for a student to showcase their unique qualities and strengths, regardless of their life experiences. The whole idea is to share a facet of the student’s life that can really paint a compelling portrait of the personality and character.

 

So, what should a student write about in their personal statement if they haven’t experienced personal trauma? Here are our insights and ideas:

 

Share your personal journey:

Begin your personal statement by sharing your personal journey, including your background, experiences, challenges, and achievements. Highlight how these experiences have shaped you into the person you are today and how they have influenced your desire to attend college.

 

Highlight your unique qualities:

Share your unique qualities, skills, and talents that make you stand out from other applicants. This could include your leadership skills, creativity, problem-solving abilities, or any other characteristics that demonstrate your potential to contribute to the college community.

 

Discuss your community involvement:

Share your involvement in your community, such as volunteer work, community service projects, or leadership roles in clubs or organizations. Explain how these experiences have helped you develop a sense of civic responsibility and a commitment to making a positive impact in your community.

 

Share your future goals:

Discuss your short-term and long-term goals and how attending college will help you achieve them. Highlight your aspirations and what you hope to accomplish during your college years and beyond.

 

Address challenges and adversity:

If you have faced challenges or adversity in your life, discuss how you have overcome them and the lessons you have learned. Share how these experiences have shaped your character and resilience, and how they have prepared you for the rigors of college life.

 

Discuss your cultural or diverse background:

If you come from a diverse cultural or ethnic background, share how it has influenced your perspectives, values, and identity. Discuss how your cultural background has shaped your worldview and how it has prepared you to thrive in a diverse college environment.

 

Reflect on your interests and hobbies:

How do you choose to spend your free time? Share your passions and hobbies and how they have influenced your personal growth and development. Discuss how these interests have shaped your character, skills, and goals, and how they will contribute to your college experience.

 

 

In summary, a student does not need to have personal trauma to write a compelling personal statement for college applications. Admissions officers are looking for unique qualities and strengths that a student can bring to their campus community. Best of Luck and happy writing!

College Essays: How to Slay Your First Draft?

Things I hear during application season:

“I read a bunch of college essays on ____ site to help me understand what I should be writing.”

“My friend/parent/older sibling told me I should do _____ – is that OK?

And on it goes.

Write College Essays DraftWhy is writing for college applications so very difficult? Why does it stir up so much doubt? Because of fear. Fear of looking silly. Fear of writing the wrong thing. Fear of being REJECTED.

When it comes to college essays, you often feel that the stakes could not be higher.

What should you do? Reframe the task. College admissions officers want to hear what you have to say. They are not out to play “gotcha” – they actually want to get to know you. That’s what your college essays are all about. How can you help them to see the real you? Let’s dive into that first draft!

 

 

How important is your college essay? Check out our post on Why The College Essay Matters

 

brainstorming and plan your college essay contentInsight #1: Channel Your Creativity!

Great writing starts with great…pre-writing. Yes, brainstorming! A simple pen with paper will do. So will sticky notes, or, if you like being able to move, erase, etc. your ideas, I highly recommend using a mind-mapping software (Coggle and Miro are examples). Check your environment – is being at home too distracting? Hit the library or literally take a hike (and bring your notebook with you).

 

 

 

 

Insight #2: Let Your Inner Editor Wait Its Turn

 

let your thoughts flow when you write your college essay draftsIf you are worried about your writing, while you are writing it, this means your editor and writer selves are battling for control. Who is the captain? The editor or the writer? If the answer is “both” that means the boat goes nowhere (“boat” in this metaphor being your draft). When you notice your inner editor interfering, questioning, or otherwise stopping the writing process, try thanking it for showing up and asking it to wait a while until it is time to work. When will that be? AFTER the first draft.

 

Writer’s block? Read more about Overcoming Writers Block

Insight #3: You are Feeling the Pain of Learning How to Write About…You

Quick, grab any adult you know and show them some of these college essay questions. Would they love to answer these? Of course not. They are difficult! So part of this process is learning that the discomfort of learning how to write about yourself doesn’t mean you are “good” or “bad” at it – it just means you are learning.

 

Insight #4: Everyone Can Do A GREAT Job

No matter how you feel about your writing skills, it is highly unlikely that you have written anything like this before. Do you think that my students who have written novels and scripts, or have worked on their school newspapers sailed through the applications process without a care in the world? Nope! If you write well, your fears may be even more pronounced than someone who feels less confident about their writing. Why? Because you know that you can always do a better job.

What if you struggle in English classes? That is also OK. I have worked with students who aren’t native English speakers, and they are still able to express themselves well in their college applications. How??? The fact that the process of writing your college essays is difficult. Keep in mind that your first draft does not predict the later quality of your work. At Insight, we work with students through one draft after the next, and every iteration pushes their college essays toward greatness. Don’t feel discouraged if your first few drafts aren’t perfect. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and making consistent progress – that is what matters!

 

Insight #5: You Are The Expert of Your Life

Lastly, something to remember is that you have had 11 years of people telling you to listen and follow their lead. It can be shocking to realize that colleges want to hear from you. It is a completely different dynamic. My goodness – now someone wants to hear what I have to say? It takes some acclimatization. However strange it may sound, you are actually an expert – on your own life. You are 100% qualified to discuss it.

 

Want more college essay tips? Check out 5 Tips for Your College Essays

 

I hope these college essay insights help you as you move through your drafts this summer/fall. Happy Writing!

 

Need help with your college essays? We are here for you! Schedule a 1-hour personalized college planning session with an Insight Counselor today to learn how we can help you write your college essays!

 


Written by Meilin Obinata

This article is written by Insight Senior College Admissions Counselor Meilin Obinata.

Meilin Obinata is a Senior College Counselor who enjoys learning from her students. She believes education is a creative endeavor and creates a space that allows students to explore new ideas. As a Bay Area native who grew up in Santa Cruz, she is familiar with the local schools. Read her full bio here.

Top 10 College Essay Mistakes to Avoid

It’s application season! Whether you’ve been working on your college essay drafts all summer or just finished slaying your first draft, you want to double-check your personal statement or personal insight questions (PIQs) response. In this article, Insight Counselor Zach summarizes the top 10 most common college essay mistakes that you definitely want to avoid!

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How to Answer the Common App Essay Prompt #4

In this article, college admissions counselor Jason Katz will share his insights on the Common App Essay prompt #4, which was updated in the 2021-2022 admissions cycle. 

Quick Read

    • The Common Application, which is accepted by more than 900 universities, includes the Ivy Leagues, the NESCAC, and the Claremont Colleges. It helps streamline the essential college application during the college admissions process for first-year and transfer students. 
    • While most of the seven Common App essay prompts remain unchanged in the past few years, this year one of the prompts is eliminated in favor of a new prompt.
    • Prompt #4 is about gratitude.

 

A Note on Gratitude from Harvard Health

Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.

In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

The New Common App Essay Prompt (aka Prompt #4)

 

The Common App essay prompts were recently updated and there is one big change—one of the past prompts has been eliminated in favor of a new prompt.  There are still seven prompts that college applicants can choose from, however, the prompt about solving a problem, which is not used very often according to the Common App, is no longer available and has been replaced with the following prompt about gratitude:

 

Common App Prompt #4: “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?”

 

So, how do you write an essay responding to this new prompt?  There are a couple of steps you can follow.

 

 1. The Common App is not trying to trick you with this prompt (or any of its prompts for that matter). So, take some time to think about a time when someone did something for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way.  It doesn’t have to be a major life-changing event.  It could be something as simple as you were feeling anxious before an oral presentation at school and one of your classmates went out of their way to comfort you, told you to take a deep breath, and that you’re going to do an awesome job on the presentation.  This short interaction with your classmate lessened your anxiety and you did in fact go on to do a great job on your presentation.

 

 2. Now this is the most important part—REFLECTION. What did you learn about yourself as a result of this interaction with your classmate and how has this gratitude affected or motivated you?  Perhaps you were feeling a bit pessimistic about people in general, and teenagers in particular, but this interaction with your classmate helped to renew your faith in humanity.  And perhaps the gratitude you felt as a result of your classmate’s actions towards you has motivated you to seek out others at your school who might be struggling and go out of your way to help them.

 

This is an overly simplistic example, but I think you get the point.  As with all the Common App essays, the colleges you are applying to simply want to get to know you better, see that you are a good writer and that you have the ability to be introspective and reflect on your life.  As an added bonus, like the quote from Harvard Health at the beginning of this post states, “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.”  So, by writing an essay responding to the newest Common App prompt, not only will you be getting one of your college application essays done, but you may even become happier as a result of writing about your gratitude.

 

If you have any questions about the newest Common App essay prompt (or any of the Common App essay prompts), reach out to your Insight counselor or schedule your 1-hour college planning session today.

 

All of the Common App Essay Prompts

The word limit on the essay is 650.

 

Prompt #1:  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.

 

Prompt #2:  The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

 

Prompt #3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

 

Prompt #4: 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?

 

Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

 

Prompt #6: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

 

Prompt #7: Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

 

 


Written by Jason Katz

This article was written by Insight Counselor Jason Katz.

Jason has helped hundreds of students gain admission to their best-fit universities. In addition, he wrote more than 170 college admissions/college life columns for the Palo Alto Daily News and the San Jose Mercury News. Read his full bio here.