Common App 1: Background or Story
The first option is all about what is the essence of your life. This asks you to boil down your life into one singular event or theme. If this is something you can easily do, this is the question you should pick.
Once you decide to do this question, sit down and think about how the story or background that you thought of defines you. The words are both very vague meaning you can talk about anything from a single event, a life philosophy, a quote that you live by, or even an object you carry around. Define yourself with one word and that will tell what to write your essay about. If you kept a journal or diary, you should go back and read through it and look for the entry that is most relevant throughout high school.
Common App 2: Failure
People like to be asked about their strengths, and not their weaknesses. However, time and time again people say that you are defined not by your strengths, but by the way you handle your weaknesses. This is not just something people say. You learn more from your mistakes than you do from your success. The college admissions officers want to see what you learned in high school. They don’t want you to reveal your fatal flaw that you don’t know how to overcome. They want you talk about a failure you experienced, but more importantly how you overcame it and what you learned from it. A key thing to remember here is not to discuss something that is really a strength and talk about it as a weakness, just to talk about a strong point. You want to pick a real failure in your life and discuss that honestly.
Common App 3: Challenged an Idea
This question is my favorite one. It asks you to pick a time when you stood up for an idea. This is important not just to see what ideas you stand for and what makes you tick, but also to show how you deal with challenging an idea and how you handle being challenged. They want to know you will be an active member of the community by discussing and adding ideas. It is also a good idea to consider talking about an idea that was your own that you challenged. Show how you changed a belief of yours and what you learned from that. That would offer the admissions committee a unique perspective on your ability to change and adapt. Make sure you answer the “would you make the same decision again” part. Answer truthfully with whether or not the way you challenged and idea, or the fact that you even did challenge it, was good or bad.
Common App 4: Best Place
This is a great question for those of you who have a “happy place.” This is your chance to analyze in writing why you have that place and why it makes you happy. The important thing here is to use the “what” to discuss the “why.” Explain why the fact that you have a view of the mountains from your tree house makes it a perfect spot for you to go when you are in deep thought. It allows you to take an introspective look into yourself and a big choice in your life. You could also consider talking about an imaginary place that you would like to have access to or a state of mind that you enjoy being in. Be creative with this one and do not just discuss why you love your bedroom so much. You should talk about the “who” in this question as well. Would the perfect place have anyone other than you in it? Would you want to be alone with your books, or surrounded by your friends?
Common App 5: Moving Up
This is similar to the first question, except it asks you define something smaller than your entire life, just when you felt like you moved on from being a child to being an adult. All right, so maybe its not that much smaller, but you have a lot of room for play if you choose this question. For one thing, I would avoid the cliché things such as a religious ceremony, cultural event, or legal privilege, unless your experience with it was different that everyone else who goes through it. You should try to show personal growth and maturity rather than societal acceptance of you as an adult.