Common App Essays: Last Minute Help + Advice!

Are you struggling to finish your Common App Essay + each individual school’s supplementals?  With only 2 weeks left before the January 2022 college admissions deadline, and with the holidays quickly approaching, a lot of students are panicked!  What if it’s not good enough???  What if my essays sound stupid?  But suppose my topic is off base, and it’s just not what the schools are looking for?

What if I blow all of my chances?

Panic can be a bad thing, but the harsh truth is…there may be some truth to your fear.  The top schools in the US are looking for certain things, and if you don’t check the boxes in terms of your college admission essays, you’re simply not going to accepted.

The following however is a list to make sure your essays, and especially your Ivy League essays if you’re applying to the very top schools like Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, UPenn, Cornell, or Columbia, hit the mark.  Check out the following list of pointers to see where your own admissions essays might stand, and most importantly, while you still might have time to make some adjustments.

  • 1. The Common App Essay Topic:  Your Common App main essay topic is the most important thing in your entire application.  So many times I have seen essays by students that are well written, but the topic itself doesn’t lend itself to really showcasing the student’s background, and what makes them unique.

ASK YOURSELF: Is this topic truly the most interesting choice from my background?

  • 2. The Supplemental Essays:  After the Common App, your supplemental essays are the next most important thing in your college application, again, especially if applying to the Ivy League or top 20 school, and the worst of the 7 Deadly College Admissions Essay sins you can make is repeating yourself among any one school’s supplementals.

ASK YOURSELF:  Have I used each essay to say something different? Am I aware that repeating myself is one of the 7 Deadly Admission Essay Sins?

  • 3. The Activity List: This is the list of your extracurricular activities on your actual Common App (or Coalition App) application.  Most students list their activities and pay no attention to the ORDER the activities are listed. This is a very bad and very common error.  Order = emphasis, and you need to put your most impressive activities first!

ASK YOURSELF: Have I listed my activities in the order the admissions committee will find impressive? Am I listing the activities chronologically, or just in any random, haphazard order that comes to mind?

  • 4. The “Additional Information” Essay: Have I written an “additional information” essay, or have I decided I am not interesting and therefore have nothing else of value to say on my own behalf.  Obviously, this is very bad.  You need to take the opportunity to find something else from your background, culture, intellectual interests, hobbies, reading, anything to tell the admissions committee even more about yourself.  Don’t take this opportunity! You don’t look that great next to every other student who did find something else to add.  This is especially true for those schools that only have 1-2 supplemental essays.

ASK YOURSELF:  Am I taking every opportunity to show the admissions committee how interesting, ambitious and intellectually curious I am?

  • 5. Supplemental Materials: As with the above, some schools let you upload “additional documents” — this can be anything from MP3 files of music you’ve composed, to videos that show off a classical orchestral performance for example, to JPEGs of artwork, PDFs of published or not-yet-published fiction.  Again, as with the above bullet point, this is an opportunity to show the committee even more about yourself.

ASK YOURSELF: Am I taking this opportunity?

Those are just the top five points that come to mind as you are all finishing up your college applications this holiday season.  If you need extra help, reach out to me at

I’m a former Harvard admissions interviewer + Harvard grad. I work with the top students all over the world who are trying to get into the Ivy League.  Let me help you while there is still time to succeed!

Check out the other articles on my award-winning Ivy League College Admissions Blog, such as the post:  Your College Admissions Interview