Common App Personal Essay Prompt 1 Back to all templates
Section 1

In the opening paragraph, focus on a personal story or anecdote that reveals something important about your life. Begin to tell a story sharing a “snapshot” of your life that relates to your background, identity, interest or talent. Choose only ONE of those four options as your focus. 

 

Do: Grab your reader’s interest with a “hook”

Do: Use your own voice and personality. It is fine to use the “I” voice (first person narrative.)

 

Don’t: Write a long-winded introduction. Keep this opening at a short 1-3 sentences

Don’t: Be overly descriptive. This is a personal narrative and not a short story

To see an example, click on the Sample icon on the left

Use an Anecdote to Draw in the Reader

Starting Sentence Option 1: Once, when I was ________ (examples: “a child,” “visiting my aunt,” “learning how to swim,”) my ________(examples: “family member,” “mentor,” “teacher,”) said to me, “________” [insert direct quote that will set up the rest of your essay.]

 

Starting Sentence Option 2: In my upbringing, ________(examples: “food,” “education,” “sports,”) played a primary role. I’ll never forget the time ________[describe brief anecdote related to your topic.]

Section 2

In this section, state your thesis i.e what about your background, identity, interest or talent is unique and compelling. Stay focused on details that support your main point. Consider adding detail by adding dialogue or facts related to your story. 

 

Do: Tell the story in a swift, concise style.

Do: Choose details that will reinforce why your story is meaningful. 

 

Don’t: Write with excessive description.

Don’t: Veer off topic or being writing about another person. This is a personal essay. 

To see an example, click on the Sample icon on the left

State your Thesis (about background, identity etc.)

Starting Sentence Option 1: In my household/upbringing, ________(examples: “academics,” “practice,” “patience,” “perseverance,” “traditions,”) were highly valued.

 

Starting Sentence Option 2: I was raised in a [“culture,” “family,” “environment,”] that o-strong="ly emphasized [summarize a key element or value.] 

Section 3

Continue to tell the story that reveals something important about your background, identity, interest or talent. Add another detail that enhances your story such as a piece of dialogue, a sensory description or a relevant fact. 

 

Do: Maintain one narrative voice (first person, “I” voice, for example)

Do: Choose details that will reinforce why your story is meaningful. 

 

Don’t: Digress into excessive description

Don’t: Tell multiple stories or introduce another topic. 

 

To see an example, click on the Sample icon on the left

Reinforce your Thesis (provide additional examples)

An experience/memory that emphasizes [my topic] was when [summarize another example that highlights your identity, cultural background or special talent.]

 

Section 4

Finish telling the story that reveals something important about your background, identity, interest or talent. Here, you will be finishing the story telling portion of your essay, so be sure to “wrap it up.” By now, your reader should understand the main point of your story and what it reveals about your life. 

 

Do: Finish telling the story

Do: End on a positive note

 

Don’t: Reflect on the story you just told. You will be doing that in the conclusion paragraph

To see an example, click on the Sample icon on the left

Wrap up your thesis

[Summarize another example that highlights your identity, cultural background or special talent] was another experience/memory that defined my [background/identity/talent etc.]

 

Section 5

Your conclusion should reveal the purpose and meaning of the story you just told. Your conclusion should clarify exactly how your background, identity, interest or talent fueled who you are today. You can state in clear language exactly WHY this aspect makes you unique.

 

Do: Remember that what you reveal here will show the admissions committee more about what type of student you will be.

Do: Restate the overall impact of this experience on your life.

 

Don’t: Continue telling your story. The conclusion is a reflection. 

 

To see an example, click on the Sample icon on the left

Conclusion

[My background/identity/interest /talent] contributed to my [“life,” “education,” character,”] by [summarize the impact on your life and the person you are today.]

 

 

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