Common Application Essay Tips Part 2 – Nailing the Style

Common Application Essay Tips Part 2 – Nailing the Style | The Red Pen

Part 2 in a 2-part series

In part 1 of this series, we spoke about some ideas that will help you ‘humanise’ yourself and stand out with an offbeat essay topic. Part 2 gives you some tips on how to craft your writing style so that you grab the admissions officer’s (AO) attention. After all, how you write is as important as what you write. 

Here are some tips to help with the writing style of the Common Application essay:

1) Rip your heart out:

Readers connect more when you reveal a vulnerability than when you tout a strength. Don’t fret about showing your human side; that’s what will bind you to the AO. Exhibit how you triumphed or how you intend to at least; no one is perfect. 

2) Go deep:

When writing about your budding interest in art history, you could write that you’ve always loved visiting museums and how your art history course in high school solidified that interest. Then you could list your favourite artists; that’s going broad. Or, you could geek out about Edward Hopper. You could write about his lonely, minimalist paintings and how they make you feel. You could tell the reader that you’ve always admired his talent for telling a whole story with only a few seemingly unimportant characters. You could write about your own storytelling and how it has been inspired by Hopper. That’s going deep. By focusing on details, you set yourself apart. Many people love museums and could list some artists that they like. Not many have taken the time to extensively talk about Edward Hopper on paper.

3) Have a creative structure: 

The Common Application essay doesn’t follow the five-paragraph format (yes!) and you aren’t required to use textual evidence to support your claims. With this freedom, however, comes the challenge of identifying and transmitting a topic that best captures you and your personality. Pepper your paragraphs with creativity. Line breaks, rhyme, rhythm, dialogue, theme and sentence construction can all grab attention! 

4) Use an authentic voice: 

Relaying that your friends would describe you as silly and outgoing is, unfortunately, not enough. The AO reading your application needs proof in the form of a written tone that matches your spoken one. As the AO reads through your essays, he or she is crafting an image in their heads of the person who will arrive on campus in the fall, if admitted. Your job is to arm them with examples of who this person is. Do this not just in what you say but how you say it.

5) Make YOU the centre:

Fight the urge to focus on your athletic practice schedule, the grandparent you admire or the community service experience from last summer. You may use these people or experiences as launching pads to discuss yourself, but that is all they should be. What kind of teammate are you? Is grandpa the reason you’ve always got a harmonica in your bag? Did the service trip spark a deep interest in a specific social issue that now drives your academic study? These are better areas of focus than the sport, the grandparent or the trip themselves. 

6) Use interesting language:

This does not mean using a thesaurus! Rather use language that builds imagery. ‘I want to lead from the battlefield’ sounds so much better than saying ‘I want to make a difference’. Likewise, ‘wrung dry of ideas’ vs ‘had no plans’. Go on an awareness blitz; invigorate your vocabulary strength! 

7) Show don’t tell:

‘I learnt how to be strong and was brave’ vs ‘I mustered up a smile and ploughed through’.  Oftentimes when you watch a movie, an actor’s expression, sigh or the closing of a door speaks louder than words. Your actions can be small, but they should be loaded with meaning.

Last words? Weave a story, don’t write a resume. Write to express, not impress! Missed out on part 1 of this series? Click here to read how to unearth your Common Application essay topic. For more information, get in touch with us.

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