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Common App Prompts

College Admissions

Looking for some help on addressing the Common App prompts? I’ve compiled a bunch of helpful tips so keep reading and write your best essay yet!

What You Need to Know: Common App Essays

Before we get into how to approach the Common App prompts, I want to take a few moments to go over some general things to keep in mind when you’re approaching these essays.

Not All Schools Need the Essays

That being said, most schools do require the essays. The Common Application has recently changed their policy so that a general personal statement is now optional, but very few schools have adopted this viewpoint. There are even schools that require additional supplementary writings so be sure to read over everything carefully when you’re preparing your applications.

Even though the essays are optional, I strongly encourage all my students to write and submit them anyway. The purpose of the Common App prompts is for schools to get to know you and feel like they have a personal, vested interest in you attending their college. Your essays give them a preview of the type of person they can expect.

Don’t waste your time writing a single essay to each school you’re applying to. Spend your time crafting a brilliant personal essay and then focus your time on tailoring an essay for the schools that ask for supplements.

Make Your Words Count

There is a word limit for each of the Common App prompts. It changes from year to year, but currently sits at 250-650 words. You cannot submit an essay with less than 250 words or more than 650 words. Regardless of schools that offer you the chance to submit a physical copy that exceeds this word limit, adhere to this word limit. You need to make the most of the essay space given so if you end up going over in your drafts, be sure to edit heavily to get it within the range.

Don’t Worry, You’ve Got This

Sitting down to write these essays can be so intimidating! And it’s even more stressful, because of how broad the Common App prompts are when you look at them. The way you answer one prompt will be entirely different from the way your friend or classmate writes it. Don’t let that scare you! Just like your life’s story isn’t the same as your friend’s or classmate’s, neither will your essays.

Look at the Right Prompts

The Common Application changes their prompts regularly. Make sure when you're writing responses that you’re addressing the most recent ones.

What are the Common App Prompts for 2016-2017?

So now that we have our general essay tips out of the way, let’s take a look at the Common App prompts for this year’s application cycle.

  1. 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.
  2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  4. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Now when you’re looking at these questions, you need to ask yourself three questions before you get started:

  1. What are they asking?
  2. What do they want to know?
  3. What sorts of topics can work?

Be sure to answer these questions as simply as possible so that when you’re brainstorming, you can easily re-focus and see if what you’re writing fits with what you’ve outlined.

Tips for Responding to the Common App Prompts

I know the essays are one of the most challenging aspects of your college application. So here are the 4 Be’s to making your essays amazing.

Be Personal

The point of these essays is for the admissions committees to get to know you. You need to write about something you care about and that flaunts a quality or trait you believe the people reading your application need to know about you. Remember: show, don’t tell.

Be Patient

Don’t start writing these essays 10 minutes before the applicantion deadline. You will need to give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm, free write, edit, and rework so that you submit the best essay you possibly can. These essays help determine your future so be sure to take them seriously. Take two to three months to hammer these essays out with your college consultant.

Be Unique

This is a two-fold tip. Be sure to honor your own story and experiences by sharing them. Also, avoid writing about something you’ve already gone over in other areas of your application. If it’s a story that’s centric to your development as a person, then I encourage you to approach it from a different angle or show how it drew out a different trait in you and why.

Be Specific

To write the most successful essay possible, it needs to be as specific as possible. For example, anyone can write about their first day in high school. But your individual experience on that first day may make you and your essay standout. It will also help you cultivate supporting details about this event and help you write an engaging essay.

Answering the Common App prompts can be a challenging task, but by following these tips, you’re well on your way to writing a memorable admissions essay.

Have any questions about writing your essays? Need some additional help with editing? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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