Behind the Red Pen: What Teachers Would Write for Common App

by Jackie Thompson

College essays ask seniors to tell insightful, sincere, and personal stories in 650 words or less. It’s quite the daunting task and important one too; essays are arguably the most important part of aspiring collegiates’ applications.  

“I think it’s difficult for seniors to write a good college essay,” Mrs. Moore said. “They don’t have a lot of life experiences or stories to tell at that age.” Moore teaches English to sophomores and juniors at BHS. Senior Iona Harrop agrees, “The hardest part isn’t writing the actual essay; it’s figuring out what to write about!”

With more than 600 colleges using the Common Application, the majority of high school students, including Harrop, will be writing to one of their five prompts. The prompts for the 2015-2016 are as follows:

  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.
  2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

“I started out by thinking of what I could write for each prompt then chose the one I liked best,” Harrop said, which for her, was the first. According to some of the Common Application’s member colleges, the first prompt is the most popular and the most useful. It, in addition to the second and fourth, provide students with an excellent opportunity to write a personal narrative.

“I wrote about the time I spent living in Britain and how being in an Air Force family influenced my upbringing,” she said. “I thought that if I had to tell [my college’s admission officers] one thing, it’d be that.” And that’s the key. College essays are the only aspect of a student’s application where they can directly influence how the admissions officers will perceive them. They can choose what parts of themselves they wish the highlight, so it’s important to write an essay that exhibits characteristics the writer is proud of.

Mrs. Bertke, who teaches College English and Mythology at Bellbrook, chose the third prompt. She knew exactly what to write about. She even knew what her first line would be. “I was a relentless tomboy,” she said. Bertke grew up playing sports with her brothers and the boys in her neighborhood. She was the only girl, but she absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, as she got older, Bertke found that she was unable to pursue her passion for athletics as thoroughly as the boys she grew up with.  “Back then, Title IX didn’t exist. Girls weren’t taken seriously as athletes,” Bertke recalls. This had always bothered her, but it wasn’t until she heard her school’s quarterback trash-talking a few lockers down from hers that she decided to act. She bet the quarterback what was then fifty dollars and now closer to one hundred dollars that she could out-throw him.  “I didn’t even have the money,” Bertke laughs, but the quarterback did. They met after school at the football field and she won. Bertke split the money 50/50 with her father, who’d had taught her to how to throw a football when she was younger. “My dad chewed me out for making a bet without the money to back it up, but I’d do it again.” It was impulsive, yes, but Bertke was passionate about the issue and stood up for what she believed in. “That’s what I would want the college officers to see.”



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