Am I Really Special?

A cynical look into Common App essays

Messed up your ACT score? Had a rough start to the IB? Don’t worry, there’s always the Common Application essay as a fallback. It’s the 250-650 words that are treated as the saviors of your application.  Everyone tells you what college admissions officers don’t want to see, but when it comes to what you actually should write, advice is limited to “be yourself and don’t be cliché.” This article follows the internal monologue of a senior struggling to show universities who she really is.


  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it.


Frantic Senior Brain: “I’m privileged, white and of European descent. How original. What if I play the card that I’m half Latina because I live in Brazil? Maybe living in Taiwan for 4 weeks gives me an advantage? Then again, EVERYONE at Graded is 8% something super unique, 29% *insert minority*, and 33% some other ethnicity… And there’s that one kid who’s lived in 8 different countries.

VERDICT: It’d be better for everyone if you just didn’t even try with this one.


  1. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?


Frantic Senior Brain: “This is the one. I’ve got this in the bag. I can’t even count how many challenges and failures I’ve faced. The entire IB has been a setback to my life. I can write the best essay about how dealing with the unbearable pressure from my parents has led me to question my potential and worth. Then again, the IB knocks everyone down everyday and I haven’t been given the chance to get back up yet…. I could always take a more emotional path and talk about the heart-warming story of when my bunny Tootsie passed away and how that marked my life as my first psychological trauma.”

VERDICT: If you can manage to talk about Tootsie in a life changing way, go for it.


  1. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?


Frantic Senior Brain: “The issue with this is that I’m always questioning everything. The school decides to take Yakisoba off the menu? I’m there challenging that decision. Brazilian politicians discuss ways to make Brazil safer during pre-election debates? There’s no doubt I’ve already gotten in 20 different Twitter fights about the ideas they presented. There is no way I can hone only one thing and make it special if I find a way to challenge every single thing.”

VERDICT: Maybe if you weren’t so annoying and only challenged things when they actually mattered you would have something to write about.


  1. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.


Frantic Senior Brain: “Of course there are plenty of problems we face in the modern day society that I would like to solve, but the number of insanely talented Nelson Mandela and “cure for cancer” type kids that have actually solved problems is more than my brain could even imagine.”

VERDICT: Not for you… Not for you.


  1. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.


Frantic Senior Brain: “The only thing coming to mind is Kylie Jenner talking about how 2016 was the year of realization. Also, I’ve been the same person since literally eighth grade so not much personal growth there.”

VERDICT: You need to take some more time off to reflect about yourself before you can even think about writing this one.


  1. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?


Frantic Senior Brain: “Perhaps this one isn’t actually that bad. You’re completely in love with biology and you genuinely enjoy conducting scientific experiments and researching about scientific discoveries. As a matter of fact, biology may be the only class where you don’t peek at the clock every 30 seconds waiting to get out. You’re no Albert Einstein, but, at the end of the day, universities need to balance their incoming classes with some of us commoners too.”

VERDICT: Looks like we might, maybe, hopefully have a winner.


Less Frantic Senior Brain: “I know these questions are really throwing you off, but just take this moment to talk about you. No, you aren’t the most unique high school student out there, but at the end of the day you are a special person and this essay is the one way to show universities that you’re worth the acceptance letter.”