Their are two significant types of written work involved in a US application (not including the now optional written element of the SAT). The first is the Common App essay. This is a 650 word essay in response to one of six essay prompts. This year the prompts are similar to the 2014 prompts (the different wording is italicised below).
- 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.
- The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
- Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
- Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
- Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
These essays are very different to those expected for a UCAS Personal Statement which expect you to focus on your academic reasons and suitability for the course you are applying for. In the US there is no course you are applying to do and your academic ability is covered by your transcript, SAT/ACT scores, predictions and teacher references. Instead the Common App essay tries to get to the heart of who you are as a person. The web is awash with information about how to ace the essay, much of it is misleading but there are some nuggets of truth out there. We would suggest that your starting point should be to understand what the admissions officers do with the essay and, for this, there is no better starting point than to watch the 2013 Tina Fey film ‘Admission’.