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How to Successfully Answer Common App Prompt #7

If you’ve gone through the first six prompts given by the Common App and still not found inspiration for what to write about, you’re in luck…kind of. The final prompt reads as follows:

Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

The freedom to design and answer your own question opens up every possibility for you to express yourself in the best light. However, with this freedom comes a certain level of risk. You must find an entry point that draws the reader in and hooks her. Though it can feel cathartic to tell whichever story you’d like, keep the main objective in mind – creating an ally within the admissions office.

So how does one go about successfully navigating a prompt with no real restrictions? Read on to hear our best tips.

Story First, Prompt Second

When crafting your personal statement for colleges, the essay prompt is just a guide; don’t get so caught up in trying to pigeonhole your answer into a specific box that you neglect the more important goal of telling a compelling story about yourself.

Embrace the creative freedom that the final prompt provides and focus first on getting your story where you want it to be. If after developing your story you realize your essay doesn’t fit neatly into one of the first six prompts, choose this one. 

Some students worry that selecting a topic of their own creation will put them at a disadvantage. But there is no preference of one question versus another among admissions officers. What they prefer is an essay that illuminates who you are as a person and reflects on your strengths and aspirations in a way that makes it easy for them to advocate for you.

Do Something New

Although the prompt suggests that you may recycle a piece of writing you’ve done for another assignment, avoid this trap at all costs!

You have one main opportunity to speak for yourself in the admissions process – through your essays. Why not take advantage of being able to craft a specific story for that audience? Though you may be proud of an English essay or analytical work done in another class, it will not serve you as well in this situation.

Your admissions officer is not your teacher. Their goals and objectives are different. Saving time or effort is not worth reducing your likelihood of making an impact through your essay.  Some colleges may ask specifically for a piece of writing from your school in addition to a personal statement. In that case, you should submit something you’re proud of that also has strong teacher feedback.

Remember, the effort you put into your admissions process will reflect heavily in how you are read. At most schools, there are more qualified students than there is room to admit. Help yourself stand out from the crowd with a well-planned, well-executed personal statement.

Do Something “You”

The truth about most essays is that they are “fine” – not bad, but not special enough to move the needle on an admissions decision. If you aren’t inspired by any of the earlier prompts to explore a standout topic, then lean into this one. But be sure to elevate the content of your response to a level that cuts through the noise.

Being specific and personal is crucial to writing a memorable personal statement. If an admissions officer – who will read hundreds, if not thousands, of essays each year – has trouble remembering what’s special about your essay, they will not be able to fight for you in committee.

To be clear – the story you tell doesn’t have to be so original and strange only someone like JJ Abrams or JK Rowling could have conceived it. But it must be infused with your personal voice and significance to resonate. Focus on the “you” part of your story – how you’ve grown, how you’ve changed, what you’ve learned, what you’ve contributed to a particular community – and avoid getting mired in common details and tropes.

Start your essay writing process with an open mind and navigate it with confidence, knowing that your story is important and powerful.

The expert admissions consultants at Wise World Prep have helped hundreds of students maximize their potential of being admitted to their top choice colleges and universities. Over 20 years, we have successfully guided students through each stage of the application process – from choosing competitive high school courses to building an appropriate college list to drafting winning essays to writing persuasive update and appeals letters. We would be happy to answer your questions and partner with you to create a successful admissions roadmap.

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