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How to Common App 2020-21 - Prompt #1

14 APR 2020

Welcome back to Crimson’s 9 part series on this year’s Common Application Essay prompts and how to tackle them. This blog will cover the first prompt provided, which lets you talk in-depth about your culture, identity or interests. So let’s get into it!

If you haven’t already, check out our first blog about what the Common App is and general approaches to answering it.

The prompt reads: ‘Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story.’

This prompt should bring out deep discussion about your cultural roots and your upbringing. Where are your family from and where did you grow up? Were you immersed in a culture that is meaningful to you and plays a big part in your life? What were you known for and what was your role in the neighbourhood? Were you inspired by any people, art or philosophies that shaped you as a person? While these suggestions may bring up very broad answers, ultimately you want to be able to focus on a focus that is uniquely relevant to you.

If you have questioned your identity, or it has shifted in the past few years, it’s certainly useful to figure out how to describe why those changes happened and what the impact of them has been on your goals into the future. For example, if you have had a life-changing experience or awakening that changed your outlook and identity, what was it’s trigger, what ideas and emotions did it give birth to, were these ideas confronting or enlightening? Once again it comes down to how this shift was important to you.

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If you are feeling stuck, make a list of different phrases or values you would use to describe yourself, and see which ones can form the basis of an essay about your identity. For example, you may want “compassion,” “humility,” or “cooperation” to be the focal point of your application. Next, try and make this really clear in the essay - pick a cultural aspect or a story from your upbringing that will make this evident. Say if you were again talking about ‘cooperation’ you might want to share a story about how for example your family came together as a team and achieved something.

This essay prompt gives you the chance to talk about your interests and talents, and this is certainly a great option if you can make a direct link to your interests and what defines you as a person. However, you will also have the chance to talk about some of your interests and talents in your extracurriculars so, it may even be a good idea not to double-up on the discussion on any one or small group of activities. Bottom line it is best to explore fresh and engaging content at all stages of your application.

Finally, you should anticipate that you and other people from similar backgrounds may be writing about the same big-picture ideas, so to distinguish yourself you will need to talk in detail about why your upbringing was unique and why you are different to your peers.

Read Part 3 of the Common App series.

If you would like your essay reviewed by an expert so you can feel confident when submitting your college application, get your essay reviewed by Crimson.

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