The Common Application has become popular with students because it streamlines the application process and allows students to apply to multiple schools, more efficiently. Instead of filling out and writing essays for each school on his wishlist, a student completes one application and sends it to multiple schools. It has become popular with colleges because students of color, as well as students with financial need, are more likely to apply to schools they might not otherwise consider. However, the downside to the ease of using the Common Application is that students may face more competition at these colleges.
As always, standing out in a crowd of applications will depend on your essay. Let's face it-- most of the applications submitted will not have much diversity across applicants. Grades will be good, test scores will be high, extracurricular activities will be abundant and impressive. The essay is where a student will shine. The essay is a student's chance to separate herself from the pack. The essays, across the field of applicants, will be unique, reflecting the personal experience of applicants but a well-written essay will really stand out.
Admissions officers read hundreds, if not thousands, of application essays. When I taught high school English, my eyes used to glaze over after reading 30 essays, with 100 more essays to go. I can't even imagine what would happen if I had to read hundreds of essays! But a well-written essay always made me perk up and take notice. It was refreshing to read a well-crafted essay with a developed voice after reading essays riddled with grammatical errors, cliched phrases and disorganized ideas.
I love these writing tips from David Ogilvy, of the advertising firm Ogilvy and Mather, via brainpickings (one of my favorite nerd websites of all time):
Write the way you talk. Naturally.
Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification,attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
Nancy Cavillones is a writing coach based in West Redding, Connecticut. She is available to coach students on application essays and AP English essays as well as general academic tutoring in ELA and Social Studies for grades 5-12. Coaching is available online and in person. Tutoring is only available in person. Contact her today for rates and availability. firstname.lastname@example.org