Each year, the Common Application makes small changes to its application, which is used by more than 400 colleges and universities. Most years, the changes are small, but the changes for 2013-2014 are more dramatic, including new essay prompts.
As a counselor, the most important component of the essay is always the opportunity for the applicant to express himself or herself. In the current (and past versions) of the Common Application, the questions were broad and flexible, including the option to write on the “topic of your choice”. Despite its flexibility, I found that some of my students struggled to write under a completely open prompt; they had a hard time focusing their messages.
The prompts for 2013-2014 are equally broad. The instructions encourage applicants to think about their message. “What do you want readers to know about you?” With a goal length of approximately 500 words, the application will allow up to 650 words, which provides some latitude for students to tell their stories completely. Unlike previous common application versions, the new essay will not be an upload; it eliminates the opportunity for italics and underlining, and graphics or formatting.
The new Common Application will be live on August 1, 2013, almost 6 months from now. I don’t encourage members of the class or 2014 to start writing today, but it doesn’t hurt to begin thinking about how these prompts have been reflected in your life experiences. It’s helpful to jot down thoughts, experiences, or ideas that might become an essay 6 months from now.
The 2013-2014 Common Application essay prompts are:
- Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
- Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
- Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
- Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
By Whitney Bruce, who has worked in college admissions since 1996. She has served as a Senior Assistant Director of Admissions (Washington U), Application Reader (University of Michigan), Assistant Director of College Counseling (private prep school in St. Louis), and an independent college counselor. She is happy to advise you as you apply to college.