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May 2, 2024


Common App Essay Examples: What Works and Why

 Student writing in a book with Red Pen

Crafting a Compelling College Application Essay

The Common Application essay is your chance to shine and showcase your unique voice, experiences, and aspirations to college admissions committees. In this blog, we'll dive into the world of successful essays and explore the strategies and techniques that make them stand out. With expert analysis and practical advice based on the latest essay writing techniques, you'll learn how to craft a compelling essay that highlights your individuality and leaves a lasting impression.

Discover the Art of Effective Storytelling

This curated collection of Common App essays offers a treasure trove of insights into what makes an essay exceptional. From personal anecdotes to complex themes, each essay is a case study in persuasive writing and compelling storytelling. You'll learn how to identify your own unique stories, develop engaging narratives, and articulate your aspirations with clarity and conviction, using professional personal statement guidelines.

Embracing Authenticity and Vulnerability

In a sea of college applications, authenticity and vulnerability are your greatest assets. These essays showcase personal experiences, challenges, and growth, reminding you that your individuality sets you apart. Inspired by tips from top US universities 2024, you'll be encouraged to embrace your narrative with honesty and courage and to convey your story in a way that resonates with admissions committees.

Get Ready to Write Your Way to Success

Through these four Common App essay examples, you'll gain a deeper understanding of what works and why. Equipped with tools from AI essay writing advancements, you'll be inspired to craft an essay showcasing your unique voice and perspective. So, let's dive in and explore the art of writing a standout college essay using advanced application essay tips!

Here are 4 Common App Essay Examples to inspire and guide you:


As I enter the double doors, the smell of freshly rolled biscuits hits me almost instantly. I trace the fan blades as they swing above me, emitting a low, repetitive hum resembling a faint melody. After bringing our usual order, the “Tailgate Special,” to the table, my father begins discussing the recent performance of Apple stock with my mother, myself, and my older eleven-year-old sister. Bojangles, a Southern establishment well known for its fried chicken and reliable fast food, is my family’s Friday night restaurant, often accompanied by trips to Eva Perry, the nearby library. With one hand on my breaded chicken and the other on Nancy Drew: Mystery of Crocodile Island, I can barely sit still as the thriller unfolds. They’re imprisoned! Reptiles! Not the enemy’s boat! As I delve into the narrative with a sip of sweet tea, I feel at home. “Five, six, seven, eight!” As I shout the counts, nineteen dancers grab and begin to spin the tassels attached to their swords while walking heel-to-toe to the next formation of the classical Chinese sword dance. A glance at my notebook reveals a collection of worn pages covered with meticulously planned formations, counts, and movements. Through sharing videos of my performances with my relatives or discovering and choreographing the nuances of certain regional dances and their reflections on the region’s distinct culture, I deepen my relationship with my parents, heritage, and community. When I step on stage, the hours I’ve spent choreographing, creating poses, teaching, and polishing are all worthwhile, and the stage becomes my home. Set temperature. Calibrate. Integrate. Analyze. Set temperature. Calibrate. Integrate. Analyze. This pulse mimics the beating of my heart, a subtle rhythm that persists each day I come into the lab. Whether I am working under the fume hood with platinum nanoparticles, manipulating raw integration data, or spraying a thin platinum film over pieces of copper, it is in Lab 304 in Hudson Hall that I first feel the distinct sensation, and I’m home. After spending several weeks attempting to synthesize platinum nanoparticles with a diameter between 10 and 16 nm, I finally achieved nanoparticles with a diameter of 14.6 nm after carefully monitoring the sulfuric acid bath. That unmistakable tingling sensation dances up my arm as I scribble into my notebook: I am overcome with a feeling of unbridled joy. Styled in a t-shirt, shorts, and a worn, dark green lanyard, I sprint across the quad from the elective ‘Speaking Arabic through the Rassias Method’ to ‘Knitting Nirvana’. This afternoon is just one of many at Governor’s School East, where I have been transformed from a high school student into a philosopher, a thinker, and an avid learner. While I attend GS at Meredith College for Natural Science, the lessons learned and experiences gained extend far beyond physics concepts, serial dilutions, and toxicity. I learn to trust myself to have difficult yet necessary conversations about the political and economic climate. Governor’s School breeds a culture of inclusivity and multidimensionality, and I am transformed from “girl who is hardworking” or “science girl” to someone who indulges in the sciences, debates about psychology and the economy, and loves to swing and salsa dance. As I form a slip knot and cast on, I’m at home. My home is a dynamic and eclectic entity. Although I’ve lived in the same house in Cary, North Carolina for 10 years, I have found and carved homes and communities that are filled with and enriched by tradition, artists, researchers, and intellectuals. While I may not always live within a 5 mile radius of a Bojangle’s or in close proximity to Lab 304, learning to become a more perceptive daughter and sister, to share the beauty of my heritage, and to take risks and redefine scientific and personal expectations will continue to impact my sense of home.

Tips + Analysis

  • Vivid descriptions: The author's use of sensory details effectively transports the reader into their world, making their experiences feel more relatable and engaging.
  • Thread awareness: The author skillfully weaves the concept of "home" throughout their essay, using bolded words as guideposts to connect their diverse experiences.
  • Effective storytelling: The essay is well-structured, with a clear narrative arc and engaging anecdotes that showcase the author's journey.
  • Self-awareness and reflection: The author's ability to recognize and articulate their sense of home and community demonstrates self-awareness and reflection.
  • Unique perspective: The author's experiences and interests offer a fresh and interesting perspective, showcasing their individuality.

Why this essay stands out

  • Immersive storytelling: The author's vivid descriptions and engaging anecdotes make their story more immersive and relatable.
  • Dynamic sense of home: The author's concept of home as a dynamic and eclectic entity is a unique and compelling perspective.
  • Multifaceted personality: The author's diverse interests and experiences showcase their multifaceted personality and individuality.
  • Effective use of metaphors: The author's use of metaphors, such as the pulse of the lab equipment mirroring their heartbeat, adds depth and creativity to their writing.
  • Meaningful conclusion: The author's reflection on their sense of home and community, and how it will continue to impact their life, is a thoughtful and meaningful conclusion.


In eighth grade, I was asked to write my hobbies and career goals, but I hesitated. Should I just make something up? I was embarrassed to tell people that my hobby was collecting cosmetics and that I wanted to become a cosmetic chemist. I worried others would judge me as too girlish and less competent compared to friends who wanted to work at the UN in foreign affairs or police the internet to crack down on hackers. The very fact that I was insecure about my "hobby" was perhaps proof that cosmetics was trivial, and I was a superficial girl for loving it. But cosmetics was not just a pastime, it was an essential part of my daily life. In the morning I got up early for my skincare routine, using brightening skin tone and concealing blemishes, which gave me the energy and confidence throughout the day. At bedtime I relaxed with a soothing cleansing ritual applying different textures and scents of liquids, creams, sprays, and gels. My cosmetic collection was a dependable companion - rather than hiding it away, I decided instead to learn more about cosmetics, and to explore. However, cosmetic science wasn't taught at school so I designed my own training. It began with the search for a local cosmetician to teach me the basics of cosmetics, and each Sunday I visited her lab to formulate organic products. A year of lab practice taught me how little I knew about ingredients, so my training continued with independent research on toxins. I discovered that safety in cosmetics was a contested issue amongst scientists, policy makers, companies, and consumer groups, variously telling me there are toxic ingredients that may or may not be harmful. I was frustrated by this uncertainty, yet motivated to find ways of sharing what I was learning with others. Research spurred action. I began writing articles on the history of toxic cosmetics, from lead in Elizabethan face powder to lead in today's lipstick, and communicated with a large readership online. Positive feedback from hundreds of readers inspired me to step up my writing, to raise awareness with my peers, so I wrote a gamified survey for online distribution discussing the slack natural and organic labeling of cosmetics, which are neither regulated nor properly defined. At school I saw opportunities to affect real change and launched a series of green chemistry campaigns: the green agenda engaged the school community in something positive and was a magnet for creative student ideas, such as a recent project to donate handmade organic pet shampoo to local dog shelters. By senior year, I was pleased my exploration had gone well. But on a recent holiday back home, I unpacked and noticed cosmetics had invaded much of my space over the years. Dresser top and drawers were crammed with unused tubes and jars — once handpicked with loving care — had now become garbage. I sorted through each hardened face powder and discolored lotion, remembering what had excited me about the product and how I'd used it. Examining these mementos led me to a surprising realization: yes, I had been a superficial girl obsessed with clear and flawless skin. But there was something more too. My makeup had given me confidence and comfort, and that was okay. I am glad I didn't abandon the superficial me, but instead acknowledged her, and stood by her to take her on an enlightening and rewarding journey. Cosmetics led me to dig deeper into scientific inquiry, helped me develop an impassioned voice, and became a tool to connect me with others. Together, I've learned that the beauty of a meaningful journey lies in getting lost for it was in the meandering that I found myself.

Tips + Analysis

  • Honesty and vulnerability: The author's willingness to share their insecurities and personal growth makes the essay relatable and authentic.
  • Passion and exploration: The author's enthusiasm for cosmetics is evident, and their determination to learn more and explore the field is admirable.
  • Self-awareness and reflection: The author's ability to recognize their own superficiality and acknowledge their growth is a sign of maturity and self-awareness.
  • Effective storytelling: The essay is well-structured, with a clear narrative arc and engaging anecdotes that showcase the author's journey.
  • Unique perspective: The author's passion for cosmetics and their exploration of the field offers a fresh and exciting perspective.

Why this essay stands out

  • Unconventional hobby: The author's passion for cosmetics is not typical, making their story more exciting and memorable.
  • Personal growth and self-awareness: The author's journey from insecurity to confidence and self-acceptance is inspiring and relatable.
  • Scientific curiosity: The author's exploration of cosmetic science and their determination to learn more showcase their scientific curiosity and critical thinking skills.
  • Effective use of anecdotes: The author's use of personal anecdotes, such as their skincare routine and lab practice, makes their story more engaging and relatable.
  • Meaningful conclusion: The author's reflection on their journey and their realization that "the beauty of a meaningful journey lies in getting lost" is a powerful and thought-provoking conclusion.


On “Silent Siege Day,” many students in my high school joined the Students for Life club and wore red armbands with “LIFE” on them. As a non-Catholic in a Catholic school, I knew I had to be cautious in expressing my opinion on the abortion debate. However, when I saw that all of the armband-bearing students were male, I could not stay silent. I wrote on Instagram, “pro-choice does not necessarily imply pro-abortion; it means that we respect a woman’s fundamental right to make her own choice regarding her own body.” Some of my peers expressed support but others responded by calling me a dumb bitch, among other names. When I demanded an apology for the name-calling, I was told I needed to learn to take a joke: “you have a lot of anger, I think you need a boyfriend.” Another one of my peers apparently thought the post was sarcastic (?) and said “I didn’t know women knew how to use sarcasm.” One by one, I responded. I was glad to have sparked discussion, but by midnight, I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. Completely overwhelmed by the 140+ comments, I looked to my parents for comfort, assuming they would be proud of me for standing up for my beliefs. But instead, they told me to remove the post and to keep quiet, given the audience. I refused to remove the post, but decided to stay silent. For months, I heard students talking about “The Post,” and a new sense of self-consciousness felt like duct tape over my mouth. As I researched the history of Planned Parenthood (to respond to someone accusing it of “the genocide of black babies”), I became interested in the history of the feminist movement. At the same time, I was studying the Civil Rights Movement in my history class, and researching my feminist critique of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. I gradually began to realize that refusing to conform to the conventions of society is what propels us toward equality. Martin Luther King was arrested nearly thirty times for ‘civil disobedience’ and Susan B. Anthony for ‘illegal voting.’ Letting the social media backlash silence my own fight for social justice seemed silly and unacceptable. Before The Post, I naïvely thought that sexism was dead, but I came to see its ubiquity, whether it’s painfully conspicuous or seemingly innocuous. Knowing that young girls are especially vulnerable to constricting gender stereotypes, I Googled “girls empowerment programs” and called Girls on the Run to see how I could help. As a junior coach, I spend my Monday and Thursday afternoons with middle school girls, running, singing Taylor Swift songs, discussing our daily achievements (I got 100 on my math test!), and setting goals for the next day. The girls celebrate their accomplishments and talk about themselves positively, fully expressing their self-esteem. After The Post, I also Googled ‘how to be politically active,’ and signed petitions for the Medicare for All Act, the Raise the Wage Act, and the EACH Woman Act, among others. In response to the transgender military ban, I called the White House (they hung up as soon as I said “as a human rights advocate...,” but I tried). It feels good to sign petitions, but I’m still not doing enough. I want to fight for social justice in the courtroom. My role model Ruth Bader Ginsburg says, “dissent[ers] speak to a future age... they are writing not for today but for tomorrow.” Retrospectively, I realize that The Post was my voice of dissent―through it, I initiated a campus-wide discussion and openly challenged the majority opinion of my school for the first time. As I aspire to become a civil rights attorney and the first Asian woman on the Supreme Court (I hope it doesn’t take that long!), I am confident that I will continue to write and speak out for justice ―for tomorrow.

Tips + Analysis

  • Courageous voice: The author's willingness to speak out against injustice and share their opinion, despite potential backlash, demonstrates courage and conviction.
  • Personal growth: The author's journey from feeling silenced to finding their voice and taking action showcases their growth and development.
  • Effective storytelling: The essay is well-structured, with a clear narrative arc and engaging anecdotes that showcase the author's experiences.
  • Passion for social justice: The author's passion for fighting for social justice and equality is evident and inspiring.
  • Role model inspiration: The author's admiration for Ruth Bader Ginsburg and aspiration to follow in her footsteps adds depth and context to their goals.

Why this essay stands out

  • Authentic voice: The author's voice is genuine and relatable, making their story feel more authentic and engaging.
  • Courage in the face of adversity: The author's refusal to remove the post and their continued advocacy despite backlash showcase their courage and conviction.
  • Growth and self-awareness: The author's journey from feeling silenced to finding their voice and taking action demonstrates self-awareness and growth.
  • Inspiring passion for social justice: The author's passion for fighting for social justice and equality is inspiring and motivating.
  • Clear goals and aspirations: The author's specific goals and aspirations, such as becoming a civil rights attorney and Supreme Court Justice, add direction and purpose to their essay.


I’m no stranger to contrast. A Chinese American with accented Chinese, a Florida-born Texan, a first generation American with a British passport: no label fits me without a caveat. But I’ve always strived to find connections among the dissimilar. In my home across the sea, although my relatives’ rapid Mandarin sails over my head, in them I recognize the same work ethic that carried my parents out of rural Shanghai to America, that fueled me through sweltering marching band practices and over caffeinated late nights. I even spend my free time doing nonograms, grid-based logic puzzles solved by using clues to fill in seemingly random pixels to create a picture. It started when I was a kid. One day, my dad captured my fickle kindergartner attention (a herculean feat) and taught me Sudoku. As he explained the rules, those mysterious scaffoldings of numbers I often saw on his computer screen transformed into complex structures of logic built by careful strategy. From then on, I wondered if I could uncover the hidden order behind other things in my life. In elementary school, I began to recognize patterns in the world around me: thin, dark clouds signaled rain, the moon changed shape every week, and the best snacks were the first to go. I wanted to know what unseen rules affected these things and how they worked. My parents, both pipeline engineers, encouraged this inquisitiveness and sometimes tried explaining to me how they solved puzzles in their own work. Although I didn’t understand the particulars, their analytical mindsets helped me muddle through math homework and optimize matches in Candy Crush. In high school, I studied by linking concepts across subjects as if my coursework was another puzzle to solve. PEMDAS helped me understand appositive phrases, and the catalysts for revolutions resembled chemical isotopes, nominally different with the same properties. As I grew older, my interests expanded to include the delicate systems of biology, the complexity of animation, and the nuances of language. Despite these subjects’ apparent dissimilarity, each provided fresh, fascinating perspectives on the world with approaches like color theory and evolution. I was (and remain) voracious for the new and unusual, spending hours entrenched in Wikipedia articles on obscure topics, i.e. classical ciphers or dragons, and analyzing absurdist YouTube videos. Unsurprisingly, like pilot fish to their sharks, my career aspirations followed my varied passions: one day I wanted to be an illustrator, the next a biochemist, then a stand-up comedian. When it came to narrowing down the choices, narrowing down myself, I felt like nothing would satisfy my ever-fluctuating intellectual appetite. But when I discovered programming, something seemed to settle. In computer science, I had found a field where I could be creative, explore a different type of language, and (yes) solve puzzles. Coding let me both analyze logic in its purest form and manipulate it to accomplish anything from a simple “print ‘hello world’” to creating functional games. Even when lines of red error messages fill my console, debugging offered me the same thrill as a particularly good puzzle. Now, when I see my buggy versions of Snake, Paint, and Pacman in my files, I’m filled paradoxically with both satisfaction and a restless itch to improve the code and write new, better programs. While to others my life may seem like a jumble of incompatible fragments, like a jigsaw puzzle, each piece connects to become something more. However, there are still missing pieces at the periphery: experiences to have, knowledge to gain, bad jokes to tell. Someday I hope to solve the unsolvable. But for now, I’ve got a nonogram with my name on it.

Tips + Analysis

  • Unique perspective: The author's experiences and interests are diverse and fascinating, offering a fresh perspective.
  • Effective storytelling: The essay is well-structured, with engaging anecdotes and a clear narrative arc.
  • Passion for learning: The author's enthusiasm for discovery and problem-solving is inspiring and relatable.
  • Self-awareness and reflection: The author's ability to recognize and articulate their strengths and interests demonstrates self-awareness and reflection.
  • Authentic voice: The author's voice is genuine and relatable, making their story feel more authentic and engaging.

Why this essay stands out

  • Intriguing opening: The author's introduction is attention-grabbing and sets the tone for their essay.
  • Diverse interests and experiences: The author's varied passions and experiences make their story more interesting and relatable.
  • Effective use of metaphors: The author's use of metaphors, such as comparing their life to a jigsaw puzzle, adds depth and creativity to their writing.
  • Genuine enthusiasm: The author's excitement for learning and problem-solving is infectious and inspiring.
  • Satisfying conclusion: The author's conclusion is thought-provoking and leaves the reader with a lasting impression.