Student Insight: Choosing the Right Common Application Essay Prompt

October 17, 2017

With 7 different Common Application essay prompts to choose from, how do you narrow down the right one for you? MQiu, Columbia ‘19, shares her experience of choosing which essay prompt to go with, and how she approached writing it. We hope her journey will inspire yours. 

When I first read the Common App prompts, one stuck out to me.

“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.”

I wanted to tell the story about my father, who I met when I was ten. I vaguely knew that it had an impact on the person who I am now (or so my psychiatrist used to say), but didn’t know if my college essay was the proper place to tell the story. I felt like the “proper college essay” was about how I love helping kids learn code, or how I created a vaccine that saved thousands of lives, or how I played at Carnegie Hall at the age of four. None of these situations applied to me and I was at a loss at how to even begin.

So, being as Type A as I am, I thought of an essay topic for each one of the Common Apps and tried to write about them. For each of the other four essays, I wrote 200 words, and had trouble thinking of more things to say. It got to the point where I started adding unnecessary words that didn’t sound like me at all. I realized it was time to move on and get to the one I really wanted to write. For the prompt above, I wrote 870 words. Oops. Sure, the first draft was overly emotional and the topic seemed a little too personal for a college essay, but I decided if I was rejected, it was because who I am isn’t the right fit.

The way I write is brain dump, and revise, revise, revise. I sat down with my laptop and just went for it. The initial word count was 870 words, and after seven other drafts, finally got it down to 650. I had four teachers read it, and countless other peers read it as well. It was hard for me to be vulnerable enough to have my teachers know this about me, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to get it to the level I wanted without their help. I had countless friends read it over for me, and help edit. I wrote in August, and finally, three days before Columbia’s Early Decision deadline in October, I finished.

Applying to college?
View the app files and essays of accepted students.

​How did you choose which common essay prompt to write on? Leave a comment and let us know! You can also unlock MQiu’s successful Columbia application file to see her background, test scores, and full common application essay that got her accepted to Columbia early decision!

About The Author

AdmitSee Staff
AdmitSee Staff

​We remember our frustration with applying to college and the lack of information surrounding it. So we created AdmitSee to bring much-needed transparency to the application process! Read more about the team here.

Browse Successful Application Files

Columbia ‘20

Accepted to Columbia, UC Berkeley, UCLA

I'm a sophomore at Columbia University studying history, philosophy, creative writing, and comparative literature.
Columbia ‘19

Accepted to Columbia, Cornell, Macaulay Honors, Colgate, Bryn Mawr, Holyoke, Union, Fordham, Stony Brook, Adelphi, Hofstra, Baruch, Brooklyn College, CUNY City, Hunter, Queens

I just recently graduated high school and will be a freshman at Columbia University. I am a proud Muslim and have a passion for science. If you have procrastinated for the college process, not to worry. I am happy to help and answer any questions!
Brian Min
Columbia ‘19

Accepted to Columbia, UPenn, Brown, Georgetown, Williams, UVA, Florida

Columbia University senior who will help you game the admission process
Columbia ‘20

Accepted to Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, UC Berkeley, JHU, Vanderbilt, Rice, UMich, UCLA, UNC, UT Austin, Washington, Ohio State, UCSD

Midwestern kid who loves molecular biology and electronic dance music. Let me help you edit your essays!

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