Your Guide to This Year's Common Application Essay Prompts

With over 750 participating universities, the Common Application is one of the most widely-used college application platforms in the world. It helps students like you streamline the application process by sharing the same information with multiple universities with the click of a button.

You can then customize your applications based on the unique requirements of each school.

One of the most important aspects of the Common Application is the essay prompts. You’ll need to show off your writing abilities by answering one of the questions. This year’s essay prompts are the same as last year’s. Take a look at the prompts below: 

  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.

Tip: This is a good place to talk about any unique abilities or experiences you might have. Try to be surprising and unique when answering this prompt without sounding too arrogant. It’s best to tie your answer to your expectations for college, including which major, minors, clubs, or groups you might like to join that share these interests.

  1. 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?

Tip: Try to describe the context of the setback when answering this prompt. Some teenagers think the sky is falling because they lost followers on Instagram or got an F on one of their exams. Make sure your setback is real and your ability to overcome it speaks to your personal qualities as a human being, not someone obsessed with perfection or popularity.

  1. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Tip: You should only answer this prompt if you feel strongly about your beliefs or experiences, not just playing devil’s advocate for the sake of being different. You should also establish some context for your beliefs, how they were formed, any role models that might have made an impression on you growing up.

  1. 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.

Tip: Always a great prompt for a go-getter that’s interested in politics, public policy, or global change. You’ll need to do some extensive research on whatever problem you’d like to solve. Offer real-world, practical solutions, not idealistic fantasies that probably won’t come true.

  1. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Tip: Be unique with this prompt, as many applicants will talk about traditional high school experiences such as getting good grades and playing sports. Whatever topic or event you choose, play up the emotions and personal dynamics of the scene. Don’t just recount the who, what, where, and when.

  1. 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?

Tip: A great opportunity for students that are already dead-set on pursuing a certain major in college. If you answer this prompt without a clear academic path in mind, it might seem like you’d rather get lost in a fun activity instead of doing your schoolwork.

  1. 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.

Tip: Completely open-ended, this prompt gives you complete creative freedom. This tends to be one of the most popular prompts with students, because they already know what they want to write about. Unless you have something truly extraordinary to say, it’s best to go with a more structured writing prompt like the ones mentioned above.

Acing the Common Application essay prompts is key to telling your unique story. Be honest, humble, and bold, and you’ll make the right impression on admissions officers.

If you’re looking for professional help, contact VivED Consulting for a Free Breakthrough Session to get the feedback you need to succeed.