Image from Pexels

Image from Pexels

During my senior year, I slayed a monstrous beast. His name was Common App Essay Prompt. And chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ll come face to face with him soon, too.

There are no theatrics. You face him when you think you’re ready, and then, it just says this: “Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.” 

And if you’re anything like seventeen-year-old me, that’s absolutely terrifying.

Background? Story? Identity? Story? You’re not Harry Potter, or even Dobby, for that matter.  After seventeen years of being you, all you really know about yourself is that you don’t know much about yourself at all. Unfortunately, just typing “IDK” 650 times, while maybe accurate, may not convince admissions officers to let you in.  Never fear: The Prospect is here with some exercises to find yourself, at least enough to write a sincere, reflective personal statement.

Finding Yourself

Who doesn’t love personality quizzes? If you don’t really know who you are, they’re definitely a good tool to get to know yourself a little better. (Of course, your own seventeen years of experience being yourself is probably a better indication of who you actually are, but for basic personality traits to emphasize, these quizzes are perfect.)

Myers-Briggs Types

There are sixteen Myers-Briggs types based on eight simple personality traits. Are you more introverted or extroverted? Intuitive or sensing? Thinking or feeling? Judging or perceiving? It could be that you’re more perceiving than you initially perceived, or that you think you might be more of a thinker than you’d thought. If it sparks some kind of epiphany–”Yes, I am intuitive. I remember when…”–then go with it!

What’s Your True Color?

I took five different versions of the True Colors quiz in junior high and high school because my counselors thought it would help us find career paths. (I still just want to be a superhero, but that’s nobody’s fault but my own.) Basically, you can be gold, blue, green, or orange, each of which corresponds to a certain personality “type.” Again, people are complex, but the traits assigned to you could be general enough to invoke some sort of “ah-HA!” moment.

Keirsey Temperament Test

The Keirsey Temperament test is very similar to the Myers-Briggs test, but the words for each type are more interesting, in my opinion. (For example, Keirsey says I’m an “idealist”–isn’t that cooler than INFJ?) Note: I highly recommend not purchasing any reports. You’re going to be spending enough money as it is on application fees.

Visual DNA

This quiz is different from the others, in that your answers aren’t words but pictures! If you’re more of a visual person, this is for you.

Are You a Cat or a Dog?

Are you a cat or a dog? But really, if the mega-general personality assessments above aren’t your style, BuzzFeed always has some quick, fun quizzes that might generate some ideas about your personality.

Now that it’s been…eight hours (Sorry, I should have never brought up BuzzFeed), hopefully you have some clear idea of the personality traits you’ll want to emphasize in a personal statement. If not (but, I mean, it’s great to know that if you were a Harry Potter character you’d be the Sorting Hat), here’s another TP article about finding what’s interesting about yourself, and if you still got nothing here’s a giant list of words. Circle all that apply.

Finding Your Story

Hopefully, by now, you have a list of traits that you’d want to communicate about yourself: You’re introverted, perceptive, active, and you’d be Yoda if you were in the Star Wars universe. That’s great. Unfortunately, your essay can’t be, “I’m REALLY perceptive. So. Yeah. Sorry, I have to write how many words?” It’s not enough to say that you’re optimistic/a leader/someone who really likes taking personality quizzes–you’ve got to show it. Usually, regardless of which prompt you eventually face down, that means telling a story.

It sounds difficult–and it is–but your life is full of stories, and if these traits are who you actually are, you should have no problem finding something from your life to illustrate it. For each trait you’ve chosen, brainstorm 3-5 stories from your life that perfectly illustrate it. They don’t have to be big things; my Common App essay was about not knowing how to curl my hair. If you’re having trouble, do it in reverse order–think of all the important stories in your life and pick personality traits that fit with those. If that’s also difficult–I mean, you wouldn’t be reading this article if this was easy–ask the people around you. Do they remember a time when you were extraordinarily ambitious/considerate/etc? What is their favorite memory of you?

In any case, you should now have a list of stories. Pick one. (Or more. I actually ended up writing two Common App essays. This could potentially be a way to figure out which story really flows from your fingers.) And then? This is the easy part.


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the author

Gabrielle Scullard hails from suburban Arizona, where she is a senior at a public high school. She spends most of her life taking AP classes and crying about her future. When she is not stressing out about school, she plays viola (it’s like a violin but better) and signs in an American Sign Language choir (it’s like a vocal choir but better). She wants to be a superhero, but an internship at The Prospect is basically the same thing. She hopes her writing can help someone or, at least, make someone smile. You can find her on her Tumblr or at home, but she would prefer it if you didn't do either of those things.

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