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College Admissions: Common Application Prompt #1

Thursday, August 27, 2015


Common Application Prompt #1

This is an actual college application essay written in response to the Common Application prompt: Share Your Story. It is followed by comments from admissions professionals about what makes this personal statement effective. 

The intention of this series is to show readers a sample of a good essay in response to each of the Common Application prompts. This essay is an actual college admission essay, written and submitted by a real student. It is followed by comments from admissions professionals about what makes this personal statement effective.

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.

June 2003

Armed with a shoebox, a bag of cheerios, and a box of glitter and yarn, I dash across the living room floor and over the couch. I duck into my makeshift cave—a tiny space I claimed under a scarf-roof between the wall and the lumpy backside of the couch. I dump out my supplies and get to work cutting six lopsided squares of cardboard, using my bag of cheerios for both decorating and snacking. Once yarn shapes, globs of glitter, and stacks of cheerios adorn the cardboard squares, I carefully construct a beautiful box. 
A while later, I am ready and waiting with big eyes as my mom rounds the corner of the hallway. Laid out in front of me are a row of four little boxes and a sign that reads “5 sents”.

November 2006

The bell rings and the usual eruption of noise and chaos ensues as a stampede of second graders burst out the door for recess. I take a deep breath, nervously glancing down at my red folder. Mrs. Elms stands behind her desk, digging through a stack of notebooks. She smiles as I approach and asks why I'm not outside playing. Instead of answering, I proudly open my folder to present bookmarks depicting flowers, trees, butterflies, hearts and puppies. I clear my throat to deliver my eloquent sales pitch: “These are bookmarks I’m selling for free. I made them and I… I thought maybe if you liked them, you could have one.”

August 2009

Today’s business plan consists of an upside-down bulletin board resting flat on two stools, a jam jar for money, and a bean bag chair for my own comfort. Six bundles of yellow and purple wildflowers and three paper cups of blackberries sit beside a notecard that reads “$2”. A lopsided sign taped to the bulletin board boasts, “Local and fresh!”
Business is slow and my last customer is my dad. I think back wistfully to last week’s lemonade stand which raked in a hefty $12.25 after only an hour. Oh well, I muse as I pack up my stuff and eat the blackberries, at least labor was cheap. I wave at the first-grader happily picking flowers down the street.

January 2012

“What’s the difference between ionic and covalent bonds?” asks Mr. Helsel, my chemistry teacher. A hand is raised one row over and my heart jumps slightly. Gold… turn your hand. Stop moving. Aha! I can make out the word “love” in thin gold wire around Julia’s pointer finger. I feel a surge of pride. Julia Smith, the most popular girl in my grade, is wearing a ring I made. It has been a month since my handmade wire rings, at first only worn by me and my close friends, became a trend throughout my high school. Girls I have never met come up to me to ask for one, and could I possibly make a matching one for their best friend as well? 

June 2013

I walk into Tender Loving Empire, a small shop located in a trendy neighborhood in downtown Portland. Ashley, the owner, greets me with a smile, then obliges when I ask for a stock report and last month’s check. While I wait, I wander over to look at new arrivals, scanning the displays of small handmade goods such as natural soaps, little clay plots, jars of lavender and books about Oregon forestry. I give a small smile as my eyes wander to a wooden tray displaying thin wire jewelry. A small placard states the price and the label “Lightshandmade: handmade wire jewelry from Portland, Oregon”. (Enya, Chapman University, Class of 2019)

Conor’s feedback: This is a nice example of Show rather than Tell. Through timely examples dating from childhood the author balances a consistent theme of entrepreneurship while also showing us a growing sense of business acumen.

Anna’s feedback: The format of this essay – short vignettes – is a great way to demonstrate commitment and passion of her interests. She’s not just stating “I’ve been interested in art and business for a long time” but rather giving a glimpse into what this has meant during her life. I feel like I know this young woman and want to know what she plans to do next.
Jodi’s feedback: Wow! This student is really creative and entrepreneurial. I liked the writing technique that showed her maturing over time, yet staying focused on art and business. Perhaps she will use her business skills to launch a start-up with other students she meets at college.

Conor O’Rourke is Senior Assistant Dean of Admission at Pomona College, which is also his alma mater. Contact Conor at: [email protected] 

Jodi Walder-Biesanz is the founder of Portland, Oregon-based College Admission Coach LLC which helps students identify and gain admission to right-fit schools where they will thrive academically and personally. She has also worked as an application reader for Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. Contact her at: [email protected].


Related Slideshow: Slideshow: Favorite College Majors in 10 Western States

Oregon has a disproportionately high rate of students majoring in 'Forestry,' according to a Business Insider study that defines each state by a college major. See what majors define these other  Western states. 

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Film, Video, and Photographic Arts 

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