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Applicants always have questions. And their questions are always good ones. The FAQ page of this website isn’t nearly long enough to include all of them. So here are some of the overflow.

Q: “My mom and dad sent me to Costa Rica to build homes for the poor. Would this be a good Common Application Essay topic?”

A: That’s really impressive! I hope you found the experience satisfying. And while it’s a great story to tell your friends, or someone you want to impress, it is (unfortunately) not a great Common Application Essay topic. And here’s why: whether you went to Costa Rica to build up your resume or, did it out of the goodness of your heart, admissions counselors will see it as the former. And to be honest, it feels a little calculated. Remember, they’re going to read hundreds of Common Application Essays and a good portion of them will be the, “look what I did for the underprivileged” type. So let’s stay clear of this type of story. Besides, I have read this essay many, many times. And as often as I have advised applications and their parents that it’s “been there/done that” – they insist on using it anyway. So, let’s find a more original story to tell. It exists! I promise!