This is a highly personal list; use it as a springboard. 

SITES (A searchable list of English usage errors) (A great source of compelling quotations)


Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, by Patricia T. O’Connor

Words Fail Me by Patricia T. O’Connor

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott


The Common Application is a not-for-profit organization providing an admission application that students may submit to any number of its almost 900 members, located in all 50 US states and 20 other countries. 

The personal essay topics give students the opportunity to answer a deceptively simple question: 

“What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores?”

Essay topics for 2020 – 2021

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 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?

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

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

6. 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?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Note: To see the essay requirements for schools that are not Common Application members, please visit their websites.