First Essay. Choose one of the following prompts, and respond in an essay of 250-500 words. These are the essays listed on the main part of the Common Application.
- Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
- Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.
- Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.
- Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc) that has had influence on you, and explain that influence.
- A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.
- Topic of your choice.
- You just put a message in a bottle and threw the bottle out to sea. What is the message?
- If you could design and teach your own course, what topic would you cover? What texts, assignments, projects, field trips, or other resources would you use in teaching this course?
- What is your comfort food and why?
- You just made the front page of the New York Times for doing something important that no one before you has ever thought to do. What did you do and why did you do it?
- Carolina encourages students and faculty to solve problems. What problem are you trying to solve, and why is it important to you?
- Tell us about a time when you changed your mind about something that mattered to you. What led to that change?
So what do we look for in an essay? Well, here's some advice which comes from the collective wisdom of our readers, each of whom reads thousands of essays each year.
- Show us, don’t tell us. For example, rather than just telling us “I am an adventurous person,” why not show us your adventurous spirit by recounting your latest adventure with colorful details and descriptive language. Showing is always more persuasive and interesting than telling.
- Focus. Don’t try to tell your entire life story (it’s impossible), but instead think about how you can communicate one little slice of life. Can you tell a story that will illustrate one aspect of your personality? Can you zoom in on an idea that you find compelling? Can you incorporate details that will be memorable to your reader?
- Remember it doesn't have to be all about you. Some of the best essays are about people or ideas outside the writer's own life--these essays can still tell us a lot about the person who did the writing.
- Be concise. Don’t use 10 words when five will do the trick.
- Don’t feel strictly tied to the essay prompts. Use them as jumping off places, and feel free to let your creativity take you where it may. We work hard to come up with essay prompts that will inspire students to craft an interesting essay. But if your muse leads you in a slightly different direction, that's perfectly okay.
- Be yourself. Instead of trying to figure out what we want to hear, ask yourself how you can portray your unique voice and personality. This is your opportunity to show us who you are, and make us want to get to know you better.
Edited to add: I came across this video online by animator Kirsten Lepore today, and I though it might inspire you all to think outside of the box--it's a charming and unique story about messages in bottles. (And no, we don't accept videos in lieu of written essays, but I thought it was a great example of story-telling that you all might enjoy!)
Bottle from Kirsten Lepore on Vimeo.