Common Application Essay Secrets

The Common App essay is one of the most important essays your child will ever write.


Why? Because the college application essay has a huge role in determining whether or not your child will be admitted to college. In fact, some admissions officers tell me that at least 30% of the decision to accept or reject an applicant is based on what they read in the Common App essay (or UC application essay or Coalition Application essay).

Almost 1/3 of the decision to accept or reject is based on the college application essay

Given the importance of the Common App essay, it’s important that your child write a college application essay that shows how your child stands out. In other words, your child’s application essay needs to show how your child is different than and better qualified than all other applicants.


Tough? Not when you know the secrets to writing an outstanding Common App essay.


Admission officers don’t want to read an application essay that describes what’s on your child’s transcript. They’ve already read the transcript. Nor do they don’t want to read a prose version of your child’s extra-curricular list. By the time they read your child’s application essay, they’ve already read that too.


What they want to read is an essay that shows what makes your child tick, what your child feels deeply about, what your child thinks about when not preoccupied by school.


In confidence, college admissions officers have told me that they ask themselves this question when reading college application essays: “Would I want to have a cup of coffee with this student?” In other words, in short, college admissions officers want to know if the applicant is interesting and if the applicant is likeable.


Too often students feel they have to write a college application essay “the right way.” But there is no right way. There are, however, two things to keep in mind when writing the college application essay.

Secret 1:

It is not necessary to answer the Common App prompt directly or correctly. In fact, it’s not necessary to answer one of the Common App prompts at all. A better strategy is to ignore the prompts. Instead, encourage your child to write the story that she or he wants to share. Whatever your child writes will always satisfy the seventh Common App: “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.”

Click below if you'd like advice on how to write a stellar Common App Essay:

Secret 2:

Your child does not have to write about a unique topic. Many parents worry that their child won’t stand out unless she or he writes about something no one else has ever experienced. But that’s not true. You can write about anything in the Common App essay. Why? Because the success of your child’s application essay lies in its execution more than its subject matter.

Take the famous Costco essay for example.  If the college applicant who wrote this essay had written it poorly, it would have been just another boring essay. But the essay sings off the page because of the way it is written.


Your child’s Common App essay can make or break her or his admissions chances, and that’s why it’s worth taking the time to get it right.


Want help writing an outstanding college application essay? Call me! I’m always ready to help you.

Dr. Osborn works with students from all over the world to help them reach their independent, college, and graduate school goals. Through a personal, one-on-one approach, Dr. Osborn creates an individualized plan for each student based on the student’s strengths, passions, and career aspirations. Her holistic approach helps students perform well in school and secure admission to top colleges.  

About The Author

Susan Osborn, Ph.D., has spent 30 years in higher education, in admissions at Vassar College, in the English department and Writing Program at Rutgers University, in the lab at The New Jersey Center for Research on Writing, and as a private tutor. Dr. Osborn is also an award-winning writer and scholar and she brings both her education smarts and her writing smarts to every student relationship.