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  • Writer's pictureShelby Stewart

How to Write a Captivating Common App Essay This Summer

In the competitive landscape of college admissions, where test scores and GPAs often blend into a sea of numbers, the Common App essay serves as your opportunity to stand out and showcase your unique personality, experiences, and aspirations. Since summer is the best time for rising seniors to get started, here are a few tried and true ways to knock your essay out of the park. 

Consider Your Key Messaging First

What experiences, ideas, interests, and traits make you who you are? That’s why you want to consider before even reviewing the Common App essay prompts. While jumping straight to key messaging can be a big ask, first think about what adjectives you would use to describe yourself. What stories show how you embody those adjectives? That can help you inch your way toward your key messaging.  

Next, take your time to carefully read and understand each Common App essay prompt before making your selection. Choose the prompt that resonates with you the most and allows you to share a story or insight that showcases your key messaging. 

Brainstorm Ideas

Once you’ve chosen a prompt, brainstorm potential topics that you could explore in your essay. Consider how these experiences have shaped your identity, beliefs, and goals. Don’t shy away from vulnerability; the most powerful essays often stem from personal stories that evoke emotion and authenticity.

When brainstorming, consider how you’ll “show” your ideas. In college essays, “showing, not telling” is a big deal. It’s a technique where instead of simply stating facts or emotions outright, you use vivid descriptions, anecdotes, and examples to convey your message indirectly. Rather than saying "I am a hard worker," you might tell a story that exemplifies your work ethic. This approach allows the reader to experience your qualities and achievements alongside you, creating a more engaging and memorable essay. 

Revise and Seek Feedback

Writing is a process, and your first draft is unlikely to be your best work. Take the time to dig deeper and refine your essay, paying attention to structure, clarity, and coherence. Keep an eye out for typos or simple grammatical errors. Consider reading your essay aloud or asking someone else to review it for you; fresh eyes can catch mistakes that you might have overlooked.

This is the best time to turn to someone who is trained to write college essays (like Shelby!) for guidance. 

Writing a compelling Common App essay takes time and effort, so start early and give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm, draft, and revise. Don’t be afraid to step away from your essay and come back to it with fresh eyes. Each revision is an opportunity to strengthen your narrative and refine your message. That’s why at Orbit College Counseling, we strongly encourage our students to start writing their essays this summer. That way, you’ll walk into your senior year with a completed Common App essay you’re proud to submit! 


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