Many universities and colleges use the Common Application across the United States and in countries around the world. There are more than 1,000 Common Application members in the United States, Canada, European Union, United Kingdom, and elsewhere worldwide. These institutions are united in their commitment to a holistic approach to the admissions process. This commitment means that they want to evaluate you based on more than just numbers – your test scores and GPA. They pledge to consider your essay responses as a significant factor when assessing your overall application. As more schools make submitting standardized test scores optional, the impact of your essays becomes even greater. Your required and supplemental essays are your chance to tell these schools more about you by providing additional context for your accomplishments.
The best way to ace your Common Application essay is to start early. If you begin brainstorming and taking notes now, then you’ll have plenty of time to develop your ideas and create a remarkable essay that’s well thought out, detailed, and interesting to read – a recipe for college admissions success!
Remember, your essays help round out the picture of who you are, what is important to you, and why. They also provide insight into the sort of student you might be in college. This year, once again, the prompts are the same as they were for the previous cycle. These essay options were created to provide countless opportunities for you to express your character, community, identity, and aspirations. Regardless of which essay prompt you address, it is essential to give yourself time to think about the information you want to convey and what it reveals about you. It is also important to invest energy into revising your responses. Although this step might feel time-consuming, each rendition of your essay should work to clarify your intentions while projecting something meaningful about yourself. Your goal is to tell the admissions committees something that is not already presented elsewhere in your application and thereby express your individuality.
Common App Essay Prompts
In addition to the main Common Application essay, many schools require supplemental essays. Tips for those essays are the subjects of these other blog posts.
Common App Essay #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.
Describe your unique background, identity, interest, or talent, and explain in detail what it reveals about what you value. Why is it so meaningful to you? This is an opportunity to talk about various topics that are unique to you – cultural heritage, burning interests, outstanding talents, sense of identity, or unusual circumstances. Then discuss how this information, revelation, reflection, experience, talent, and/or interest plays out in who you are and the way you look at the world. What context does the information you shared provide about you? In short, why is the information you selected meaningful to you and how is it central to the way you view yourself? How does the information you shared help to prepare you for your future? How does it influence how you interact with the world?
Common App Essay #2
The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
For this essay, the obstacle you describe can be big, small, personal, or societal, but you must focus on the impact it had on you (how did it shape you?). At the core of this question is this: How do you deal with adversity, and what does that say about you? Clearly describe the specific challenge, setback, or failure you experienced. Discuss what you learned from the experience and how it affects you in your day-to-day life as well as its impact on your way of thinking. Don’t focus on the setback itself; instead, emphasize what you learned about yourself and how the event changed your perspective or behavior. Did it inspire or motivate you in some way? What lessons can you apply that might lead to success in the future? Maybe you learned that hard work pays off? Or that balance is important in your life? Or that you want to make different decisions in the future? If you can, discuss how you handled a similar subsequent obstacle using the lessons learned and with a different, far more positive outcome.
As you craft your essay and reflect on this experience, remember that your primary goal in this response is to demonstrate resilience.
Common App Essay #3
Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
This is a more open-ended version of the previous prompt. It allows you to address something that didn’t sit right with your values but doesn’t require you to have actively challenged the belief or idea. This prompt focuses on your way of thinking and processing the world around you. You can either talk about your actions and impact or explain your rationale for not taking action. Recount a time when you stood up for something or seriously thought about it. Explain what created the conflict that motivated you to consider action. What was your thought process? What factors came into play as you pondered the issue? What was the outcome, and how did it impact you and others? Discuss why this is so meaningful to you. Remember to convey your passion for the issue. What do your actions and rationale reveal about you? Then, think about whether or not you would make the same decision again and why. Make sure you clearly communicate your values and beliefs. What did you learn from this experience?
Common App Essay #4
Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
This prompt was introduced in the 2021-2022 application cycle and replaces the seldom addressed prompt about solving a problem. The past few years have been unprecedented and have presented many challenges, but there were also moments of clarity and goodness. This prompt is grounded in the concepts of gratitude and kindness. It is based on research that shows that reflecting on the positive influence people have had on you increases your happiness and likelihood of success. Choosing to address this prompt provides an opportunity for you to recognize humanity. It encourages you to share joy and appreciation. Your response to this question will allow you to focus your discussion on something specific that someone did that benefited you and how their behavior inspired you. As you write your essay, consider the impact of that person’s actions. It might have been a teacher, friend, family member, or even a total stranger. Why were you surprised by this person’s support, action, comment, or gesture? Explain what made you happy or thankful. Why was this event significant to you? What were you motivated to do differently from then on? How did it change your perspective about yourself or the world?
Common App Essay #5
Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
This prompt expands your options for discussing personal growth. It asks you to reflect on yourself, to identify how you were prior to a period of significant personal growth and then consider that impact on your perception of yourself and those around you (family, community, world). Think about how you might have gained independence, become more self-aware, or internalized a sense of personal responsibility. Provide rich context as you detail your selected accomplishment, event, or realization, and then focus on how it demonstrates a significant transition in your life. Why was this event so important to you? You can consider this in the context of your culture, community, and/or family. Take things a step further and discuss how this new understanding of yourself or others motivates you and how it might serve as a foundation in the future.
Common App Essay #6
Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
This is your opportunity to discuss something that completely enthralls you! The scope is endless, but the underlying question gets at what you find interesting, as well as why and how you go about growing intellectual competence. Are there people/mentors in your life to support you? What initially sparked your interest? How do you go about acquiring new knowledge? How do you gather and synthesize information? What did you learn about yourself through this topic, idea, or concept? You need to make a case for why this topic, idea, or concept is so captivating to you. Your discussion should convey your enthusiasm, wonder, and passion! Consider how you might explore or delve deeper into this topic, idea, or concept in the future. How might your plans for the future support your efforts?
Common App Essay #7
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.
Yes, this prompt is as open-ended as it seems. It really is an opportunity to write about anything you want! A word of caution to those who view this essay prompt as an easy way out of writing a new essay by selecting a previous work to use for this option: do not simply upload the last essay you earned an A on in your English or history class. The goal is to convey who you are and what matters to you. No matter what topic you choose, allow some time for additional editing. This essay should be an excellent example of your writing abilities and should also demonstrate something significant to or about you. Think about what you want the admissions committee to know about you and your life experiences. Consider what the content of the essay might say about you as a person. What does it reveal about your way of thinking, values, character, and perspective on the world? How might it enhance the other portions of your application?
Regardless of the prompt you respond to, the word limit for the essay is 650 words.
If none of the Common App essay prompts immediately jump out at you, give yourself some time to reflect on your life experiences. Talk with your parents and teachers about your ideas. Eventually, you will discover a topic that excites you and reveals something significant about you. The subject of your essay doesn’t have to be completely novel. However, it should reflect your unique perspective while clearly communicating your best self. Think about what is important to you and why. This is your opportunity to differentiate yourself from other applicants. Be thoughtful and remember that this is your chance to make a compelling impression. Keep in mind that all the Common Application member schools are interested in learning more about you through your essays!
Marie Todd has been involved in college admissions for more than 20 years. Marie has both counseled applicants to top colleges and evaluated more than 5,000 applications for the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts; College of Engineering; School of Kinesiology; School of Nursing; and Taubman College of Architecture. Want Marie to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch.