"Handiwork" - Sample Common Application Essay for Option #1

Vanessa Writes about Her Love of Crafts in Her Common Application Essay

Craft Supplies
Craft Supplies. kator29 / Flickr

The prompt for option #1 of the 2018-19 Common Application states, "Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story." Vanessa wrote the following essay in response to the prompt:


I made slipcovers for my doll house furniture when I was ten. I had a nice matching set for the living room—a sofa, an arm chair, and an ottoman—all in a gray and pink floral pattern. I didn’t dislike the furniture, but on a rainy Saturday, I decided it was time to switch things up a little bit, so I dug out some scrap material—navy blue—along with some thread, a needle, and a pair of scissors from my mother’s sewing desk. A few days later, my doll house family had a nice, newly reupholstered living room set.

I’ve always been a crafter. From the early days of Kindergarten macaroni ornaments, to making my own prom dress last year, I’ve had a knack for creating things. For drafting sketches, drawing plans, making calculations, gathering supplies, adding finishing touches. There is something so satisfying about holding something you, and you alone, have made—something that was just an image in your mind until you set about to bring it into existence, to create something new, something different. I’m sure there are hundreds of doll furniture sets out there in that same gray and pink, but there is only one with fitted (albeit with sloppy stitching) navy blue covers. There’s a sense of pride there, however small.

I’ve been lucky to have the time, the energy, and the resources to be artistic, to craft things. My family has always encouraged my efforts whether I be sewing a Christmas gift or building a bookcase. As my projects have evolved, I’ve come to realize that making things, useful or otherwise, is very much an important part of who I am. It allows me to make use of my imagination, creativity, logic, and technical skills.

And it’s not just about making something for the sake of making something. I feel a connection to my mother’s family, from a rural village in Sweden, when I make candles. I feel a connection to my grandmother, who passed away last year, when I use the thimble she gave me when I was thirteen. I feel resourceful when I use leftover wood scraps from our new barn to make coasters for the coffee table. Crafting for me is not just a hobby, not something I do when I’m bored. It’s a way to use my environment, to discover tools, and shortcuts, and new ways of looking at things. It’s a chance for me to use my head and my hands to make something pretty, or practical, or fun.

I don’t plan on majoring in art, architecture, design, or anything remotely craft-based. I don’t want it to be my career. I think a part of me is worried that I’ll lose my love of making things if there’s homework involved, or if I have to rely on it for a paycheck. I want it to stay a pastime, to stay a way for me to relax, enjoy myself, and cultivate a sense of independence. I’ll never stop being a crafty person—I’ll always have a box of colored pencils, or a sewing kit, or a cordless drill on hand. I don’t know where I’ll be in twenty years, or even ten. But I know wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I will be the person I am because of that little girl, patiently sewing together tiny pieces of fabric on her bedroom floor: creating something great, something new, something entirely her own.


A Critique of Vanessa's Essay

In this critique, we'll look at the features of Vanessa's essay that make it shine as well as a few areas that could use improvement.

The Essay Title

If you read the tips for essay titles, you'll find that Vanessa’s title fits within one of the recommended strategies: it is clear, succinct, and straightforward. We quickly know what the essay is about. Granted, her title isn’t creative, but creative titles aren’t always the best approach. With some exceptions, too much cleverness or puniness in a title tends to please the writer much more than the reader. The short title has the added advantage that it isn't adding much to the word count. Keep in mind that the title counts towards the length limit.

The Length

For the 2018-19 academic year, the Common Application essay has a word limit of 650 and a minimum length of 250 words. At 575 words, Vanessa's essay falls at the upper end of this range. This is a good place to be. You'll certainly come across college counselors who adhere to the belief that less is always more, that the admissions staff is so overwhelmed with applications that they greatly appreciate a 300-word essay. There is certainly truth to the idea that a tight 300-word essay is far preferable to a wordy, rambling, fluffy 650-word essay. However, better yet is a tight, engaging essay in the 500 to 650 word range. If a college truly has holistic admissions, the admissions folks want to get to know you as an individual. They can learn a lot more in 600 words than 300. There is no consensus on the ideal essay length, but Vanessa's essay is certainly fine on this front.

The Topic

Vanessa has avoided all of the bad essay topics, and she is wise to have focused on something for which she has true passion. Her essay tells us about a side of her personality that may not be apparent from the rest of her application. Also, the subtext of Vanessa's essay could work in her favor. Vanessa's description of her love of crafts says a lot about her: she is good with her hands and working with tools; she has acquired hands-on skills designing, drawing, and drafting; she is creative and resourceful; she takes pride in her work. These are all skills and personality traits that will serve her well in college. Her essay may be talking about handiwork, but it is also providing evidence of her ability to handle the challenges of college-level work.


Overall, Vanessa has written a fine essay, but it is not without a few short-comings. With a little revision, she could get rid of some of the vague language. Specifically, she uses the words "things" and "something" numerous times.

The biggest concern has to do with the last paragraph of Vanessa's essay. It could leave the admissions folks asking why Vanessa does not want to make her passion into her major or her career. In many cases, the most successful people are those who have turned their passions into their professions. A reader of Vanessa's essay is likely to think she would make an excellent mechanical engineer or art student, yet her essay seems to reject these options. Also, if Vanessa loves working with her hands so much, why not push herself to develop those skills further? The idea that “homework” might cause her to “lose [her] love of making things” makes sense on one hand, but there’s a danger in that statement as well: it suggests that Vanessa doesn’t like homework.

The Overall Impression

Vanessa's essay succeeds on many fronts. Keep in mind why a college asks for an essay. If a college wants to see more than your grades and standardized test scores, it means the school has a holistic admissions process. They want to get to know you as a whole person, so they want to give you a space to reveal something about yourself that may not come across in the other areas of your application. They also want to make sure you can write in a clear and engaging manner. Vanessa succeeds on both fronts. Also, the tone and voice we find in Vanessa's essay reveals her to be an intelligent, creative, and passionate person. Ultimately, no matter what essay option you choose for the Common Application, the admissions committee is asking the same thing: "Is this applicant someone who we think will contribute to our campus community in a positive and meaningful way?" With Vanessa's essay, the answer is "yes."

Want to Learn More About Common Application Essay Option #1?

Along with Vanessa's essay above, be sure to check out Carrie's essay "Give Goth a Chance" and Charlie's essay "My Dads." The essays demonstrate that you can approach this essay prompt in extremely different ways. You can also check out tips and sample essays for the other Common Application essay prompts.

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Your Citation
Grove, Allen. ""Handiwork" - Sample Common Application Essay for Option #1." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, thoughtco.com/handiwork-sample-common-application-essay-788395. Grove, Allen. (2020, August 25). "Handiwork" - Sample Common Application Essay for Option #1. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/handiwork-sample-common-application-essay-788395 Grove, Allen. ""Handiwork" - Sample Common Application Essay for Option #1." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/handiwork-sample-common-application-essay-788395 (accessed June 4, 2023).