Sample Essays (examples) for Common App Prompts & writing guide

#1 Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

I personally suggest to avoid this topic unless you really have something exceptional to say, which is not true for most cases. This topic suits those whose stories are really inspiring and 99% of us don’t fit into that criteria. Think of it this way- the essay reader from the admissions committee will be going through hundreds of essays and comes across yours. She reads your prompt and instantly gets her hopes high, thinking she has come across someone exceptional but it does not meet her expectations. 

Nevertheless, if you feel you have something really interesting or inspiring, something that makes you stand out among others, do go for it.

My Efforts to Raise Farmers’ Food Security

I was born in a middle class family in a city in India and my family later migrated to the United States, but my parents grew up in rural India. I had never been involved in agriculture, but always liked to hear stories about my parents’ experience in helping my grandparents on their farms. About 3 years ago I visited my grandparents during summer and got to see farming up close.

That specific year was devastating for the farmers in the entire region. Floods brought by excessive rain had destroyed months’ worth of effort as the yields swept away before being harvested.​​ Turns out, this was way more common than I had imagined. Every few years, some or the other natural calamity brought significant damages to the produce. Sometimes it was a strong heatwave, or an excessive rain, and sometimes even lack of it, which would bring a drought.

Usually the families who held a big enough farm, were able to save for difficult times, but most farmers were purely subsistence. They ate what they grew. If wheat/rice production wasn’t enough for the entire year, they would often go into debt. I saw this up close and knew I had to find some solutions to it, else my education in a first world country wouldn’t have been worth it. After all, I had received so much respect from everyone, and even those who had nothing, offered me something when I visited their homes.

Thankfully internet services were good in the city. I researched methods of agriculture, and came across one amazing concept which would greatly help those subsistence farmers: vertical farming. 

The idea was to grow plants on multiple floors, which artificial lighting on each floor. Irrigation to be done through motors and water tanks on the top floor. This concept was targeted towards urban areas but I felt I could modify it for smaller farms and implement on a much smaller budget. I made a design which would use tables made of bamboo and mud tiles, tied together using ropes, and instead of artificial light, we would simply leave wide spaces between each table so that light could reach each point, even underneath the table slabs. For irrigation, I used a drip irrigation method, which was originally designed to be used in areas with scarce water resources. All of it could be made with materials easily available in the village, and many of the pieces, like the small ropes, water tanks in form of old buckets could even come from trash.

With few small prototypes built, we eventually started the cultivation. There was one challenge during all this; my limited time. Almost 30 days had passed of the original 60 days vacation we had planned to stay in the country. Nevertheless, I went on hoping that 30 days would be enough. 

Nearing the end of my vacation, my experiments were moderately successful. It became clear that grains could not be grown on such a setup. However, for vegetables, the cheap vertical farm worked quite well. It could not work for commercial farming, since the input costs on a commercial scale would make it unviable, but for a subsistence farmer’s family. This was definitely a boon. Vegetables grown on such a setup could increase their personal food supply greatly.

I left back for the US, but my prototypes were still alive in the village. Throughout the year, I heard only positive experience of our neighbour family from the village, who was taking care of the vertical vegetable garden. The next year when I came, I was really happy about the entire project. 

To make this method of vegetable farming, we contacted a local reporter, who agreed to cover the story. The entire city was amazed by this project. I was called to give interviews, give sessions in schools, and was even felicitated by the district’s commissioner. 

Even after 2 years, many families in the city have a vertical vegetable garden, and people remember me as “The Vertical Gardener”. The subsistence farmers, whom I had targeted were much happier than before, with this slight increase in food security in their lives.

#2: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Ever since I started school at the age of 3, I had been an academically good student. Though there were small periods of distractions, but I never reached a point which I would consider as ‘bad’. My scores had always been good and this habit of scoring well had made an impression in my mind that it was impossible that I ever would reach a point so bad that I would call myself a failure. Since I studied in the same school for my entire schooling years, I was familiar with almost everyone in my campus. I had this reputation of a good scorer which had become part of my persona. I never realised how this had become such a strong part of my perception of myself.

It was in 11th grade when a never before event occurred. I failed a test, that too in Mathematics, which is something inexcusable in my family. Part of the reason was that I joined the math class 3 months late, but a failure was a failure. I had requested my school principal a lot to allow me to take the course even though I had not registered for it at the beginning of the year, and this failure would prove that it was a mistake for me to join the class, and for my principal to allow me to take it. It was only due to my good academic standing that I had been allowed and this failure was enough to break the reputation.

Everyone else in my class saw my score, and probably nobody thought too much about it, but since my academic performance was an integral part of how I perceive myself, I was shattered. I had let down myself and my principal, and destroyed my longstanding academic record. This test was the only black spot.

Immediately after seeing the result, I was numb for a few hours. I couldn’t show any emotions in front of my classmates or the teacher. I knew the test had gone bad, still had this faith that somehow I would pass. But there’s no divine power that ensures this. Later that day after I reached home, I told my parents about it, they were not angry about it, probably because they realized how it was affecting me. I went to my room and finally could let out my tears in solitude. This single test would not have much impact on my year-end results, but my faith in myself had shattered. I worried about what was coming in the future. What if I fail the further tests? I would have to repeat the year. How will I ever face anyone in my school ever when I’m repeating an entire year? It was difficult to pick myself up. It was probably several hours I remained in my room, crying alone.

Later that day, when I was all cried out, I tried to continue with my daily routine, but the fear in my mind was too big to ignore. From then on, whenever I studied, the confidence was quite low, but it made me work harder to ensure I did not fail again.

Weeks later, I had the exam and my biggest fear was if I would fail again. This time it wasn’t much better. I did pass, but not by much. Nevertheless, what I worried about the most, did not happen. Barely passing was much better than failing. 

Later on, I gradually recovered in the subject and scored 88 out of 100 in the year end exam, which finally took away the fear of the subject. I was now ready to face the subject with a bit more confidence than earlier, but I would always remember what I went through and it was a constant reminder that nothing is permanent, neither my confidence nor my reputation.

#3: “Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?”

I find this to be quite easy to answer for those students who actually have faced such a situation.
While you are answering this question, remember the following points: don’t include any form of bragging, don’t try to add explanations for any shortcomings in your candidature and, don’t repeat what other parts of your applications have already mentioned.

(max 650 words, min 250)

What I think about god (638 words)

Having been raised in a comfortable middle class life, I always believed life to be mostly good, with only mild challenges distributed throughout our lifetimes. I always knew there would be harsh events that would be difficult to overcome but going through them at a young age was never a thought.

Two years ago, around the same time the Covid situation began, we had been so careful about maintaining covid appropriate behaviour, that we forgot that any other disease existed too. My uncle was among those unlucky ones to have to go to the hospital. He has always been fit and fine, although he did have diabetes, but it was in control. Then suddenly one day, he fell down in unbearable pain in chest while on a morning walk on a cold winter day. The next few hours were complete haste, but to sum it up, it was a serious heart attack and he had to be admitted.
This came as a big blow to the family, who were in complete shock.

As if this wasn’t enough, god had more plans. While in hospital, he suffered a cardiac arrest and went to deep coma, with no idea of when he would wake up. This put the family in a big dilemma of what to do, since the hospital expenses were already eating up the family’s life savings. My aunt, being a deeply religious Hindu, consulted with several gurus & priests, donated to temples, and did pretty much everything anyone told. Her religious faith transformed into superstition with time, as no good news was coming from the hospital. This went on for almost 2 months, with the entire family falling into god’s lap, reading holy texts, organising religious worship ceremonies, donating food to the poor etc, and spending significant money, in addition to the hospital bills.

Finally, the sad news came from the hospital. After living a life of honesty and avoiding all sins, with family members praying day in and day out, god’s plans were not in their favour. Within seconds, everything that we were doing seemed like a waste. Religious faith seemed like farce.

In the next few days, I contemplated too much over who god is, what religions is, how it started? All of these thoughts were coming to me because the world did not seem fair. Deep down, perhaps I knew the answer all along, but for reasons that I still can’t seem to explain, we all believe that god is real. The concept of religion perhaps only existed to bring discipline in the human civilisation. ‘What can escape the eyes of law, can’t escape the eyes of god’, ‘people who do sins go to hell’, ‘good behaviour is rewarded with heaven in after-life’ – all these teachings seemed to serve only one purpose, to ensure society doesn’t go into chaos. It had nothing to do with an individual’s deeds, it was only for maintaining order in the society.

In the subsequent days, I became highly atheistic, with zero belief in karma. I went on with my day to day life with no concern for any values generally associated with religion, whether it be doing good for others, destiny or even purpose of life. While initially not tough, things did eventually started to feel overwhelming. The entire idea that there’s no destiny/god/natural justice etc was driving me mad, because I was questioning each and every action I did.

Until one fine day, when I realised, god is actually a psychological construct made to simplify our lives, and the society. The religious texts, might be fictional, but the lessons aren’t. What religion teaches isn’t supposed to happen all the time, but that’s what we are to believe to have natural calm in our minds, and keep the human race on the right path.

#5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realisation that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Reading this essay prompt gave me immediate memories of the time when I was just about to start sixth grade. I had spent a great summer and the academic session was scheduled to start in a few days. Coincidentally, my birthday is around the same time, and the best thing I did was to make a ‘birthday’ resolution.

I decided to read one page a day, from any book, on any topic. I had tried setting new year resolutions multiple times, but I always overestimated my conviction towards them, and out of nowhere, the thought of setting a ‘birthday’ resolution came to my mind. My reasoning to myself was that since I consider my birthday to be more special than the start of the year, I would take this resolution more seriously. The fact that this was a much simpler task to do each day, also increased my probability of fulfilling it regularly.

Since the school textbooks were the books I touched the most, they were naturally the books I used to read one page a day. I used to select a page randomly and read it. Most days, I was so engrossed that I would keep on reading after the first page. I was not aware of how it was going to affect me.

I was usually in the top 5 in my class, but rarely the topper. But this time when the half yearly examinations came, I topped. It was clearly the effect of regular reading, because for almost all chapters, I was already aware of the content since I had pre-read the chapters; in some cases, multiple times the same chapter.

It was only after the results came that I understood what a wonderful habit I had been inculcating. This period made me improve my academic standing in class and since then I’ve more or less maintained it.

Simultaneously, one more aspect of my life was being affected: health. As a birthday gift, I received roller skates, and used to skate daily. I absolutely loved them. This regular physical activity helped me spend time on something productive, instead of watching TV. I was also happier during this period than usual, probably because I was enjoying what I was doing.

At that age, I was too young to understand that my academic standing improved because somehow the period where I improved my fitness, reading habits, and reduced TV time, all occurred simultaneously. I now realize how our habits and accomplishments are so closely linked, and how physical health affects mental health.

Now when I think about it, I am thankful for somehow getting the thought of setting a birthday resolution. Although it made no sense at first thought, but now makes perfect sense.

(this article will contain total 7 essays, remaining will be added shortly)

How to write the essay for yourself?

Observe the above essays. You will realise that many of them follow a pattern. The first paragraph introduces yourself and the specific event that you were writing about. The next 1-2 paragraphs tell about what exactly happened. Another paragraph will mention about your feelings over the issue. The next one will tell what you did about your feelings. The final paragraph will have details about what happened next and what will be your takeaway from the experience.

So, follow this outline:

First paragraph: describe yourself, what you are going to talk about

Second: tell about the experience/incident/issue

Third: describe the topic in further details and its impact on you

Fourth: what you felt about it, your feelings and emotions

Fifth and conclusion: what are your primary learnings? what will you remember from this? when you think about this in future, what will you recall?

The above outline will be good for most essay topics, but it’s still possible that your topic might not fit into this structure. Try with the above outline, but don’t follow it blindly. You are free, in fact encouraged to be creative with the essays.

PS: the above essays were sent by some of our readers. Since this text is already on the internet now, use it only to get an idea of what people usually write, don’t replicate similar narrative. Any views mentioned in the essays are personal to the respective authors.

If you would like to send over your answers to the Common App prompts, please send them in comments. I’ll be happy to publish it on this website, with credits to you.


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