Don’t Pay Attention to the College Essay Prompt

It’s a mistake to start the process of drafting college essays by choosing a prompt, then brainstorming ideas based on an interpretation of said prompt. By focusing too narrowly on writing exactly to the prompt, students can contort their own voice and write an essay that isn’t authentic.

The Common Application Writing Section‘s directions specifically state that students should “distinguish yourself in your own voice.” So, students are free to tell the story they want in their own words. Focusing too intently on the prompt, students may end up writing a generic essay, thus admissions officers may not understand the student.

Furthermore, in the directions, students are advised to answer: 

What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores?”

The key phrase is “What do you want the readers of your application to know about you…” Thus, students are encouraged to complete a thorough self-reflection, choosing the topics and scripting the narrative which most describes their lives

In my twenty years of advising students, when students write whatever story they want to tell about themselves, without ever looking at the prompt, until the essay is ready to be copied and pasted into the application text box, inevitably, they discover multiple prompts can help frame their story.

Creative Marbles was founded by teachers who appreciate helping students craft insightful essays, first in the academic classroom, now as part of the complex college admissions process. For more information, please contact us

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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