College Essays

Common Application

Prompt: Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. (650 words)


I step behind the counter and swiftly tie my apron in a knot. The green fabric hugs me comfortably as I take in the scent of coffee and the high energy of the floor. I step up to the register, and the creak of the door opening catches my attention; another customer passing through for their mid-day pick-me-up, a place to study, or an out of routine treat. 

“Hey Barb,” I smile as she approaches, preparing her trenta iced passion tea refill on the register. “Here for your refill?”

She nods, pulling up her member ID to scan. 

“How was your girl’s weekend away with your friends?” I recall the last time I saw Barb, and she raved about a getaway that had been on her calendar for months. She depleted our supply of potato chips during her last visit, buying bag after bag to bring on her trip. Now, a week later, she leans over the counter beaming with the memories of her weekend beach house as I pour her iced tea and prepare her cup of ice on the side. 

“It was great! I stocked up on all your iced tea and potato chips!”  

“Can’t live without them! Are we gonna do stevia or raw sugar today?” My hand levitates over the sugar organizer, knowing she flips back and forth between the two sweeteners.

The first time I met Barb, I knew her as “Barbara”: the name that appeared on her mobile order ticket. Trenta iced passion tea, no ice, no water. Her drink slid over to the handoff counter, one out of what felt like countless orders I made during my shift. She arrived to pick it up and requested a cup of ice on the side, catching me off guard as I hadn’t yet learned her habits. The second time I encountered Barb, we were low on our iced passion tea. Her mobile order came in through the sticker printer, setting off an alarm in my shift supervisor’s head. 

“Barb is coming, we need more passion tea.” I stood impressed by my coworker’s awareness of the flow of the store; she understood the interactions between each menu item and customer that require a balance in order to stay intact. I wondered if I would ever reach a point where I could stay on top of our inventory like that. 

Now, I watch an endless stream of people come through our doors. Some of them I know, and some I have never seen before. I always recognize Nick, who never thinks twice before ordering a grande vanilla sweet cream cold brew. My trainer whispered his order in my ear during my first official shift; I was hesitant to make a drink before an order had officially printed, but she radiated confidence with her claims. Now, I greet Nick with a smile, and ask him if he wants his usual. 

My palms used to grow sweatier with each task I didn’t know how to complete, and with each customer who questioned whether their order had been made right. Jen likes her iced matcha tea latte made a certain way; everyone knows she wants the matcha powder on top instead of the standard, which is shaken in. I made that mistake once: I pulled Jen’s order ticket out of the printer and seeing no special requests, made an iced matcha latte the way my trainer taught me. Jen saw her drink approaching the handoff counter, knowing it was not the way she wanted it. I was told to remake it. I felt embarrassed, but how was I supposed to know? Now, I don’t hesitate before making Jen’s drink because her name on the order ticket tells me all I need to know. No special instructions, no reminders, just a couple months behind the counter and the familiarity of the smiling faces on the other side.  

Tips for Writing: 

The hardest part of writing the common app essay for me was choosing a topic. I went through so many options and wrote pages and pages of drafts that ended up getting deleted. I thought about writing about my job somewhat early on in the process, but dismissed the idea, thinking it would be too difficult. I circled back to this topic maybe a month later and wrote it in half an hour. You might write 20 pages before you finally feel like you have the one good one. It’s all part of the process and it takes time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. 

Once you have an essay that you are proud of, don’t let others try to edit it too much. At the end of the day, this essay should be in your own words, not your parents, your siblings, or your peers. Of course grammatical errors should be fixed, but little changes to diction and sentence structure aren’t always necessary if you’re not making them.

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