How to write, common pitfalls, and the Common Application. A work in progress.

Reading desk fromoldbooksYou’ll find good guidance and even inspiration on these sites about written English: (A searchable list of English usage errors)    (Dr. Mardy has a wonderful weekly newsletter–a double dose of linguistic history and wisdom. If you’re looking for some little-known, potent quotations, this would be a terrific place to start).

Some excellent books, in no particular order: 

The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition

The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, by Allan M. Siegal and William G. Connolly

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

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser

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

Essays of E.B. White, by…E.B. White (!)

The Common Application

The Common Application is a not-for-profit organization that serves students and member institutions by providing an admission application – online and in print – that students may submit to any number of its 600+ members.

Anyone can register on the site to see the essay prompts. The topics give students the opportunity to answer a seemingly simple question that calls for deep reflection:

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

These are the essay topics for 2015~2016. The student needs to choose only one, to respond to in at least 250 but no more than 650 words:

  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.

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