My Common App Essay: Pigeons


Ananth Veluvali @ Stanford University

My Common App Essay: Pigeons

Like many of the folks reading this post, I never had any life-changing circumstances or sob stories I could write about for college applications. I lived a fairly normal, uneventful life. As such, I spent weeks mulling over what topics I could discuss — what essays would make me stand out as an applicant.

Those weeks-long ruminations lead me to a powerful and important conclusion: living a normal life doesn’t mean you have to be a person with entirely normal preferences, thoughts, or experiences. Just as others’ experiences may feel completely different from your own, your understanding of normal may feel completely alien to others.

Indeed, a person living in suburban Minnesota may have a completely different daily routine from someone living in the most crowded parts of the Bronx.

That’s why I decided to write my Common Application essay about my pervasive fear of pigeons. It was authentically me, it wasn’t on a serious & weighty topic, and it still felt original and unique. After all, how many people have a fear of the plump gray birds?

But obviously, an essay about just pigeons is boring. More than that, it’s uninformative. Colleges read these essays to learn about you, not to learn about pigeons or whatever else you’re writing about. With that recognition front and center, I made sure to tie my essay to something of broader significance. Yes, I acknowledged my fear of pigeons & even poked fun at the irrational fear, but the second half of my Common Application essay centered around how I tried to (often unsuccessfully) confront my fear and how that equipped me with a framework for handling fears that I used in other scenarios.

I started with something specific, but I made sure to expand upon the idea until I got to a universal truth—a universal principle—that shapes so much of my own philosophy.

When you’re writing your own Common Application essay, I would suggest remembering this as well. The best essays tend to discuss how an idea or experience shaped your understanding of the world around you, and they leave room to discuss how you applied (or are planning on applying) that real world understanding to other domains.

Again, a fear of pigeons isn’t some soul-stripping tragedy that marks me as someone whose life has been marred by struggle. I admit, even though I still hate the birds, it’s a pretty funny fear to have. And it speaks to an important idea: you don’t need an unspeakable tragedy to get into selective schools.

I hope that helps with your application journey, and best of luck! Make sure to check out our other blog posts for even more insights into the college application process.



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