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How To Answer the 2020-21 Common App Essay Prompts

Looking for help with the 2020-21 Common Application Essay? Below CEA’s Founder, Stacey Brook, breaks down all you need to know about this year’s prompts.

Stacey - College Essay Advisors Founder

Stacey Brook, Founder and Chief Advisor

Hello, students and parents of the future class of 2025! The time has come. The Common App essay prompts for 2020-21  have been released and—spoiler alert—they’re exactly the same as last year’s! 2020-21 college applicants, like those who came before them, will have seven (that’s right, seven) essay prompts to choose from. This wide range of questions, meant to inspire candidates in their search for compelling personal stories, is ideal for exploring essay topics of all tones, styles, and subjects. Students’ personal stories and feats of insight will again be relegated to 650 words, which equates to a little more than a single-spaced page. We happen to believe this is the perfect amount of space in which to make a quick and powerful impression with admissions (or write a comprehensive fan letter to Beyoncé), so as far as we’re concerned, you’re golden.

Because we are committed to getting you the most timely and comprehensive essay advice on the interweb, we have made a guide to help you navigate the ins and outs of all seven prompts.

Before you dive (or cannonball!) into our pool of essay advice, we’d like to leave you with one last little secret: the prompts are not actually as important as you think they are . In fact, in our instructional YouTube videos and private advising , we encourage applicants to root around for their most meaningful stories first and consider the prompts later. This is a process we call the Backwards Brainstorm, and you can learn more about it here . For now, the main point we want you to take away is this: The prompts don’t really matter. What matters is the story you want to tell. (And that you floss at least every other day—trust us, it will pay off in the long run.) We are as sure as ever that every single one of you has a valuable story (or two or twelve!) to communicate to admissions. All it takes is ample time for reflection and a little writerly elbow grease to find it. So take a peek at what the 2020-21 application has in store for you, absorb what these prompts are really asking, and then forget about them (really!) as you explore the endless possibilities.

How To Write Common App Prompt #1: The Background Essay

Common Application Prompt 1

PROMPT #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.

The Common App’s Prompt #1 is the Old Faithful of essay questions. It’s been around for years and offers all the flexibility an applicant could ask for from a prompt, with just enough direction to get those creative fountains flowing. Focus on the key words, “background,” “identity,” “interest,” and “talent,” and use them as launch points for your brainstorming. What about your history, personality, hobbies, or accomplishments might be worth highlighting for an admissions officer? It can be something as small as seeing an episode of a television show (are you living life in the Upside Down?) or as large as the struggle of moving to a foreign country (especially if you had to leave behind grandma’s cooking). The most important thing to consider for this prompt is that your subject and/or perspective is dynamic and specific to you and who you are and no one else.

Some questions to ask yourself as you brainstorm:

  • What about my history or background sets me apart from my peers?
  • How do I define myself? How do the people who are closest to me define me?
  • What have I achieved that has been integral in molding my character and ambitions?
  • What, in my seventeen years on this earth, has helped shape the person I am today?

And some examples to consider:

  • Has your family’s love of food and your resultant adventurous tastes and culinary curiosity allowed you to connect with cultures from around the world?
  • Does your crazy, dyed-blue hair define you?
  • Did going to a Picasso exhibit inspire you to start an art collection that has since expanded beyond the borders of your bedroom?
  • Have your yearly trips to see your extended family in China revealed something to you about your parents’ ability to overcome challenges and the work ethic you have absorbed as a result?
  • What are the challenges and rewards of having same-sex parents? Or of being raised by your siblings? Or of being part of a family made up of stepsisters and stepbrothers?

Overall, this prompt is what we at College Essay Advisors call a “choose-your-own-adventure” prompt. It has historically served as a fabulous catch-all for subjects that don’t fit within the confines of the other prompt options. A recent addition to the Common App’s prompt selection now offers even more freedom to applicants (more on that later), but students should still think of Prompt #1 as a topic of immense choice, reeled in by a few helpful guidelines.

How To Write Common App Prompt #2: The Setback Essay

Common Application Prompt 2

PROMPT #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?

We have always believed that essays about overcoming obstacles are most effective when they focus more on solutions than problems. Accordingly, Prompt #2 essays should be predominantly filled with a student’s response, outlook, and demeanor when presented with one of life’s many hurdles, rather than a detailed account of the hurdle itself. Applicants should aim to showcase qualities like resilience, determination, and humility. The obstacles you choose to explore can vary widely in nature, especially with the recent additions that allow students to explore challenges and setbacks in addition to failures. They can be as serious as being tormented by bullies, as ingrained as the financial issues that have plagued your family for years, or as seemingly pedestrian as a mistake that costs you a tip while waiting tables. While the possibilities are almost endless, students should be careful not to choose challenges that may seem trite (the inability to achieve an A on an exam and/or secure tickets to that Drake concert) or that illustrate a lapse in good judgment (that time you crashed your car or ate 15 bags of Cheetos in one sitting). Still, if you can isolate an incident of trial in your life and illustrate how you learned from it, this can be a rewarding prompt to explore.

Some key questions to consider:

  • How do you deal with hardship?
  • What qualifies as a challenge or setback in your life and world?
  • Are you the kind of person who can rebound and turn every experience, good or bad, into one from which you can learn something? What experiences might illustrate this quality?
  • What have been some of the major challenges you’ve encountered in your life? And was there a silver lining?

And a few examples to think about:

  • Has a lifelong battle with stuttering ultimately increased your overall confidence and allowed you to participate in social activities and public forums without self-judgment?
  • Did a parent’s fragile health situation challenge you to take on more responsibilities than the average teenager?
  • Did a series of setbacks on your road to becoming a child actor introduce you to screenwriting, your professional goal and biggest passion?
  • Did your failure to follow directions lead you to a botched home science experiment (root beer explosion!) and an appreciation for a balance of creativity and planned procedure?

Overall, try to keep these stories as positive as possible. Remember, these essays are not contemplative musings on your toughest times or reflections on the hiccups that populate everyday life (though these things can certainly be touched upon); they are about overcoming obstacles and refusing to submit to life’s greatest challenges.

How To Write Common App Prompt #3: The Challenger Essay

Common Application Prompt 3

PROMPT #3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

This remains one of the most challenging prompts of the Common App’s selection, even though it has become slightly friendlier with the addition of the option to discuss a time you questioned an idea instead of challenged one. This prompt requires a student to speak passionately about beliefs and ideology, which are often onerous subjects that can be difficult to mold into compact stories. It can be one of the hardest questions to steer in a positive, productive direction without traveling into preachy, overly didactic territory. This is also a more precarious prompt than most in that students need to carefully assess the risks of espousing beliefs that might be polarizing for the readers of their applications.

That said, a response to this prompt can be incisive and deeply personal, as it was for a student who stood up to her parents’ old-fashioned outlook on feminism. Applicants who can articulate their thoughts and feelings while showcasing malleability and willingness to thoughtfully consider the ideas of others will likely stand out as valuable additions to any campus. If this prompt jumps out at you because you have a very specific story to tell or opinion to voice, run with it!

Consider these questions as you brainstorm:

  • When has your opinion been unpopular?
  • Why are you the kind of person who is willing to stand up for what you believe in?
  • What is important to you on a fundamental level of morals and values?
  • How passionate are you about the things you believe in?

And here are a few examples for you to ponder:

  • Are you openly gay in a strict Catholic school environment? What has that meant for your self-esteem and personal relationships?
  • Did you work as an intern on a political campaign caught at the center of a scandal? How did you react?
  • Did you challenge the idea of horror as a throw-away genre by executing an extensive research paper on the subject, launching a horror movie club at school, and arranging the most elaborate, best-received haunted house your neighborhood has ever seen?

Your essay does not have to be focused around a fundamentally serious or groundbreaking issue (see the horror genre example above). What matters most when responding to this prompt is that you have strong convictions about the belief or idea you are trying to convey, and that you examine the personal effects of this ethos on your life and world. For this reason, Prompt #3 can be a great vehicle for showcasing your consideration, persuasive skills, and passions to admissions.

How To Write Common App Prompt #4: The Solver Essay

Common Application Prompt 4

PROMPT #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.

We love Prompt #4, which asks students to talk about a problem and how they have solved or are planning to solve it. This question is similar to Prompt #2 in that it is meant to tease out a student’s problem-solving skills and provide a glimpse into an applicant’s frame of mind when dealing with challenges. It also provides a few bonus opportunities for creative expression, leaving both the scale and the time frame for setting up a problem/solution wide open.

Students should think about everything from more traditional obstacles they have had to overcome to the small predicaments that have inspired them to think about what they really value. Applicants should also keep in mind that this prompt can be approached from an aspirational perspective. In other words: you don’t have to simply choose from problems you’ve already solved. Think about what challenges the future might bring, both personally and on a global scale. How might you be part of meaningful progress and problem-solving moving forward?

Some other questions to ponder:

  • When have you been proactive in attempting to effect change? What inspires you to take action?
  • What kind of mark would you like to leave on the world?
  • How do you think you can positively contribute to a cause that is important to you?
  • If you had the power to make a lasting impact in any area at all, what would it be?

And examples to use as food for thought:

  • Has your love of nature inspired you to start a charity to help save local endangered species?
  • Did your desire to make a stronger, non-tearable hockey skate lace launch you on an entrepreneurial adventure you never fully anticipated?
  • Has your commitment to pursuing medical research inspired you to contact your favorite professors and researchers for summer lab positions, and to read every scientific paper you can get your hands on?

It is important that the problem you choose is linked to your life and world in a meaningful way. The whole purpose of this exercise is to reveal something valuable about yourself to admissions, so be sure to link the problem you highlight to your passions, actions, or aspirations. And don’t forget to detail at least a few steps you would/could take to solve your chosen quandary. While the prompts don’t really matter in the initial conception phases of an essay (as you now know), once you’ve settled into your prompt of choice, following instructions to the fullest and answering all parts of each question are critical.

How To Write Common App Prompt #5: The Accomplishment Essay

Common Application Prompt 5

PROMPT #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

This is a heavily revised version of one of 2016’s prompts, which asked students to describe a transition from childhood to adulthood. The purview of the inquiry has been expanded to ask about personal growth in general, leaving the lessons and timing of an applicant’s transformation more open-ended. Students are also now free to reflect on a “realization” in addition to an “event” or “occurrence.” While a realization that changes your understanding of the world will likely be sparked by a concrete marker (i.e., an event or accomplishment), we are happy to receive the added flexibility from you, Common App. Thank you very much.

There are a few things to note when unpacking this prompt. Keep in mind that the words “accomplishment” and “event” leave themselves open to interpretation; thus, an essay inspired by this question can tackle anything from a formal event to a very small occurrence. A formal event or accomplishment might include anything from obvious landmarks like birthdays or weddings to achievements like earning an award or receiving a promotion. More informal examples might include something as simple as meeting a special person in your life, taking a car ride, or eating a particularly meaningful meal. We have often found that smaller, less formal events make for more surprising and memorable essays; but as with any of the other prompts, as long as you can answer with originality and put a unique twist on your subject matter, all ideas are fair game.

Your reflection on what you have learned and how you have grown will be a source of great insight for admissions, and you want to make sure your essay highlights the intangible qualities that don’t show up anywhere else on an application.

Some other things to consider:

  • How do you react to periods of transition? What inspires a change in your perspective?
  • When have you had a “eureka” moment, and how has it impacted the way you lived your life thereafter?
  • What were the moments in life that fundamentally changed you as a person?
  • When did you learn something that made you feel more adult, more capable, more grown up?

For example:

  • Did your expansion of a handmade stationery hobby into a full-fledged business give you the motivation and wherewithal to combat the effects of a debilitating illness?
  • Have you learned to love the football team playback sessions that force you to routinely examine your mistakes, welcome constructive criticism and point yourself toward self-improvement?
  • Did a summer-long role as the U.S. President in a mock government and diplomacy exercise bring out leadership skills you never knew you had?
  • What did playing bridge at a senior citizens’ home each week show you about the value of enjoyment over competition? How did this change the way you interact and connect with others?

The most important things to keep in mind when searching for these moments are the elements of growth, understanding, and transformation. The event, accomplishment, or realization you discuss should be something that helped you understand the world around you through a different, more mature lens. And, as with Prompt #4, be sure to answer all parts of the question.

How To Write Common App Prompt #6: The Passion Essay

Common Application Prompt 6

PROMPT #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 was one of the Common App’s brand new additions for the 2017-18 application cycle, and we cannot contain our nerdy excitement that it’s sticking around for 2020-21, especially since this prompt was built to highlight a student’s inner nerd.

One could argue that college is largely about the pursuit of knowledge, so you can imagine it would be quite appealing for an admissions officer to have a meter for your level of self-motivated learning, along with a better understanding of how and why you choose to pay attention to the things that intrigue you. This is a window into your brain: how you process information, how you seek out new sources of content and inspiration. How resourceful are you when your curiosity is piqued to the fullest? The answer to this prompt should also reveal something to admissions about the breadth or depth of your interests. For example, if you’re interested in studying astrophysics, you might choose to discuss a concept that shows how far your exploration of the sciences truly reaches. How consumed are you by this passion you are choosing to pursue academically?

  • What floats your boat? Do you have an appetite for knowledge about something specific? Or, as we asked in the breakdown for Prompt #1: what do you love, and why do you love it?
  • What lengths have you gone to in order to acquire new information about or experiences related to a topic of interest?
  • How do you typically seek to enrich your knowledge when something appeals to you? Do you have a favorite corner of the library (or internet)? A mentor who is open to answering your burning questions?
  • What about the process of learning, especially about subjects that call out to you, is satisfying?

And a few examples to get those wheels turning:

  • Did the idea of open source code inspire you to create a tech startup with a few of your friends? What new projects within the company are you most excited to work on?
  • Did getting an internship at an accounting firm inspire you to start each day by checking the markets? Do you participate in a mock trading club that allows you to use the expertise you gather from culling through economic news and analysis online and beyond?
  • On any given Sunday morning, could we find you lost in the literature of Kurt Vonnegut or immersed in a collection of stories by Isaac Asimov?
  • Have you taught yourself to master the compositions of Mozart and Beethoven and break down the songs of Bruno Mars by ear in your spare time?
  • Do you have an obsession with pizza so intense it led you to study the culinary arts and keep a pizza journal that documents the 700+ slices you’ve consumed thus far? (We know someone who did this—really.) How is pizza-making more scientific and/or artistic than the average person realizes?

Whatever you’re into, embrace it. Show your feathers. Let your freak flag fly (within reason, obvs). This prompt is about the pursuit of knowledge and your desire to proactively challenge yourself. Whether you are devouring the classics on your Kindle or nerding out over the perfect cheese for calzone-making, your attachment to a subject may inspire admissions to want to learn more about it…and you.

How To Write Common App Prompt #7: Topic of Your Choice

Common Application Prompt 7

PROMPT #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.

In 2017, it finally happened: the return of the “topic of your choice” (second only to the return of the Jedi ). Feared by some, coveted by others, and legendary in its existence; regardless of where you stand on the issue, this was a newsworthy addition to the 2017-18 Common App prompt choices. For years, students have been treating Prompt #1 (which asks about your background, etc.) as topic of your choice *light*—it wasn’t exactly the delicious, full-freedom version students were looking for, but they were able to make it work in a pinch. Applicants around the world likely let out a big exhale when they saw they could still serve up a big scoop of Prompt #7 to admissions in 2018 and ’19. And this year will be no different.

Some questions to consider as you brainstorm, in addition to all of the ones we’ve posed thus far:

  • What do you want admissions to know about you that they wouldn’t be able to glean from your transcript, test scores, or teacher recommendations?
  • What are the stories that come up over and over again, at the dinner table or in the cafeteria with your friends, that might give admissions some insight into who you are and what is important to you?
  • If you had ten minutes alone in a room with an admissions officer, what would you want to talk about or tell him or her about yourself?
  • What would you bring to a college campus that no one else would or could?

And a few examples of potential subjects and their related (custom!) prompts:

  • Were you born with a congenital eye defect that literally (and metaphorically) affects how you see the world? ( Q: How is your perspective on the world unique?)
  • Do you spend 40 minutes each Friday night tutoring a class of elementary school students in Cambodia? How has that impacted the way you mete out your time and assess your commitments? ( Q: What is the value of 40 minutes?)
  • Did your parents let your older brother choose your name? What was his inspiration? (Please tell us your name is  Gaston .) What does your name represent for you? How has it impacted your interactions in the world? ( Q: What’s in a name?)

While being able to write about whatever you wish sounds great in theory, some students find—especially at the beginning of the brainstorming process—that they are debilitated by the “topic of your choice” option because it offers  too   much choice. If that is the case, fear not! Use some of the other prompts as starting points for your brainstorming and free writing journeys. Begin keeping a diary ( now! ) and jot down subjects, events, and memories as they float to the surface. Now that you have read our handy-dandy prompt guide and understand what admissions is looking for from these prompts, you could very well have a notebook filled with ideas that are ripe for expansion by the time you sit down to write.

So don’t worry about having too many ideas, or not having enough ideas, especially at the beginning of the topic selection process. Once you figure out what you’d like to say (and maybe even after you draft the crux of the essay itself), see if your concept fits one of the first six prompts. Trying to tailor your essay to a more specific prompt option may inspire an interesting spin on the story you are trying to tell—one you may not have thought of otherwise. Form influences content. If, after careful consideration, your magic essay topic does not work within the confines of Prompts 1-6, you are in luck. The glorious, all-encompassing Prompt #7 will be here to catch you.

With some brainstorming and hard work, every student can uncover a story worth telling in response to one of these prompts. Remember, admissions wants a glimpse of your personality, your values, your interests and your passions. They want to get an idea of what kind of attitude and energy you will bring to the classroom and campus life.

So take a few minutes to probe your memories, collect your stories and strike up that creative core. Every student has a fabulous essay inside of them – these prompts can help you find yours.

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College Essays

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If you're applying to more than one or two colleges, there's a good chance you'll have to use the Common Application, and that means you'll probably have to write a Common App essay .

In this guide, I'll cover everything you need to know about the essay. I'll break down every single Common App essay prompt by going over the following:

  • What is the question asking?
  • What do college admissions officers want to hear from you?
  • What topics can you write about effectively?
  • What should you avoid at all costs?

This will be your complete starting guide for Common App essays. After reading this, you should have a lot of ideas for your own essays and directions to write a really strong personal statement .

What Is the Common App Essay? Overview

Before we dig into the nitty-gritty of the individual prompts, let's quickly go over the logistics of the Common App essay and some general tips to keep in mind.

Most—but Not All—Schools Require the Essay

Keep in mind that the Common App essay is optional for some schools.

Here are a few examples of schools that do not require the Common App essay (note that some may require a school-specific writing supplement instead):

  • Arizona State University
  • Clemson University
  • DePaul University
  • Eastern Michigan University
  • Georgia State University
  • Old Dominion University
  • Pratt Institute
  • University of Idaho

If you're applying to more than one or two schools through the Common App, you'll almost certainly need to write a response to the Common App prompts. As such, we recommend sending your essay to schools even if they don't explicitly require it. You're writing it anyways, and it's the best way for the school to get to know you as a person.

It's also worth noting that because of the way this system is set up, you could theoretically send a different essay to each school. However, doing so isn't a good use of your time : if schools want to know something more specific about you, they'll require a supplement. Focus on writing a single great personal statement.

Pay Attention to the Word Limit

The exact word limit for the Common App essay has varied somewhat over the years, but the current range is 250-650 words . You must stay within this length; in fact, the online application won't allow you to submit fewer than 250 words or more than 650.

Some schools will state that if this isn't enough space, you can send them a physical copy of your essay. Don't do this. No matter how tempting it might be, stick to the word limit . Otherwise, you risk seeming self-indulgent.

In general, we advise shooting for an essay between 500 and 650 words long . You want to have enough space to really explore one specific idea, but you don't need to include everything. Editing is an important part of the essay-writing process, after all!

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Don't Stress Too Much About the Question

As you'll see, the Common App prompts are very general and leave a lot of room for interpretation.

Moreover, colleges interpret the questions generously —they're more concerned with learning something interesting about you than with whether your topic perfectly fits the question.

Per a Common App survey from 2015 , 85% of member schools " feel the prompts should be left open to broad interpretation."

You can write about almost anything and make it work, so if you have an idea, don't let the fact that it doesn't fit neatly into one of these categories stop you. Treat these breakdowns as jumping-off points to help you start brainstorming , not the final word in how you need to approach the essay.

Make Sure You Look at This Year's Prompts

The Common App changes its prompts fairly frequently , so make sure you're familiar with the most up-to-date versions of the Common App essay questions . If you have friends or siblings who applied in past years, don't assume that you can take the exact same approaches they did.

This guide will go over the details of all seven current prompts, but first let's talk about some overall advice.

common app college essay prompts 2020

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4 Tips For Finding Your Best Common App Essay Topic

As you're brainstorming and preparing to write your Common App essay, you'll want to keep these tips in mind.

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#1: Make It Personal

The point of a personal statement is to, well, make a personal statement , that is to say, tell the reader something about yourself . As such, your topic needs to be something meaningful to you.

What does it mean for a topic to be "meaningful to you"?

First, it means that you genuinely care about the topic and want to write your college essay on it— no one ever wrote a great essay on a topic that they felt they had to write about .

Second, it means that the topic shows off a quality or trait you want to highlight for the admissions committee . For example, say I wanted to write about my summer job with the Parks Department. It's not enough to simply tell a story about my feud with a raccoon that kept destroying all the progress I made repairing a bench; I would need to make it clear what that experience ;shows about my character (perseverance) and explain what it ;taught me (that there are some things in life you simply can't control).

Remember that the most important thing is that your essay is about you . This advice might sound obvious, but when you're used to writing academic essays, it can be tricky to dive deep into your own perspective.

#2: Take Your Time

Give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm and write so you don't feel rushed into jotting down the first thing you can come up with and sending it right off. We recommend starting the writing process two months in advance of your first college application deadline .

On a similar note, you should take the essay seriously: it's an important part of your application and worth investing the time in to get right. If you just dash something off thoughtlessly, admissions officers will recognize that and consider it evidence that you aren't really interested in their school.

#3: Avoid Repetition

Your essay should illustrate something about you beyond what's in the rest of your application . Try to write about a topic you haven't talked about elsewhere, or take a different angle on it.

A college essay is not a resume —it's the best opportunity to show off your unique personality to admissions committees. Pick your topic accordingly.

#4: Get Specific

The best topics are usually the narrowest ones: essays focused on a single interaction, a single phrase, or a single object. The more specific you can get, the more unique your topic will be to you.

Lots of people have tried out for a school play, for example, but each had their own particular experience of doing so. One student saw trying out for the role of Hamlet as the culmination of many years of study and hard work and was devastated not to get it, while another was simply proud to have overcome her nerves enough to try out for the chorus line in West Side Story . These would make for very different essays, even though they're on basically the same topic.

Another benefit of a specific topic is that it makes coming up with supporting details much easier. Specific, sensory details make the reader feel as if they're seeing the experience through your eyes, giving them a better sense of who you are.

Take a look at this example sentence:

General: I was nervous as I waited for my turn to audition.

Specific: As I waited for my name to be called, I tapped the rhythm of "America" on the hard plastic chair, going through the beats of my audition song over and over in my head.

The first version could be written by almost anyone; the second version has a specific perspective—it's also intriguing and makes you want to know more.

The more specific your essay topic is, the more clearly your unique voice will come through and the more engaging your essay will be.

Breaking Down the 2022-23 Common App Essay Prompts

Now that we've established the basic ideas you need to keep in mind as you brainstorm, let's go through the 2022-23 Common App essay questions one at a time and break down what admissions committees are looking for in responses.

Keep in mind that for each of these questions, there are really two parts . The first is describing something you did or something that happened to you. The second is explaining what that event, action, or activity means to you . No essay is complete without addressing both sides of the topic.

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Common App Essay Prompt 1: A Key Piece of Your Story

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.

What Is It Asking?

This prompt is very broad. Is there something you do or love, or something that happened to you, that isn't reflected elsewhere in your application but that you feel is vital to your personal story ? Then this prompt could be a good one for you.

The key is that whatever you write about needs to be genuinely important to you personally, not just something you think will look good to the admissions committee. You need to clarify why this story is so important that you couldn't leave it off your application.

What Do They Want to Know?

This question is really about showing admissions officers how your background has shaped you . Can you learn and grow from your experiences?

By identifying an experience or trait that is vital to your story, you're also showing what kind of person you see yourself as. Do you value your leadership abilities or your determination to overcome challenges? Your intellectual curiosity or your artistic talent?

Everyone has more than one important trait, but in answering this prompt, you're telling admissions officers what you think is your most significant quality .

What Kinds of Topics Could Work?

You could write about almost anything for this prompt: an unexpected interest, a particularly consuming hobby, a part of your family history, or a life-changing event. Make sure to narrow in on something specific, though. You don't have room to tell your whole life story!

Your topic can be serious or silly, as long as it's important to you. Just remember that it needs to showcase a deeper quality of yours.

For example, if I were writing an essay on this topic, I would probably write about my life-long obsession with books. I'd start with a story about how my parents worried I read too much as a kid, give some specific examples of things I've learned from particular books, and talk about how my enthusiasm for reading was so extreme it sometimes interfered with my actual life (like the time I tripped and fell because I couldn't be bothered to put down my book long enough to walk from my room to the kitchen).

Then I would tie it all together by explaining how my love of reading has taught me to look for ideas in unexpected places.

What Should You Avoid?

You don't want your essay to read like a resume: it shouldn't be a list of accomplishments. Your essay needs to add something to the rest of your application, so it also shouldn't focus on something you've already covered unless you have a really different take on it.

In addition, try to avoid generic and broad topics: you don't want your essay to feel as though it could've been written by any student.

As we touched on above, one way to avoid this problem is to be very  specific —rather than writing generally about your experience as the child of immigrants, you might tell a story about a specific family ritual or meaningful moment.

Common App Essay Prompt 2: Coping With Obstacles

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

This prompt is pretty straightforward. It's asking you to describe a challenge or obstacle you faced or a time you failed, and how you dealt with it .

The part many students forget is the second half: what lessons did you learn from your challenge or failure ? If you take on this question, you must show how you grew from the experience and, ideally, how you incorporated what you learned into other endeavors.

This question really raises two issues: how you handle difficult situations and whether you're capable of learning from your mistakes.

You'll face a lot of challenges in college, both academic and social. In addressing this prompt, you have the opportunity to show admissions officers that you can deal with hardships without just giving up .

You also need to show that you can learn from challenges and mistakes. Can you find a positive lesson in a negative experience? Colleges want to see an example of how you've done so.

Good topics will be specific and have a clearly explained impact on your perspective . You need to address both parts of the question: the experience of facing the challenge and what you learned from it.

However, almost any kind of obstacle, challenge, or failure—large or small—can work:

  • Doing poorly at a job interview and how that taught you to deal with nerves
  • Failing a class and how retaking it taught you better study skills
  • Directing a school play when the set collapsed and how it taught you to stay cool under pressure and think on your feet

Make sure you pick an actual failure or challenge—don't turn your essay into a humblebrag. How you failed at procrastination because you're just so organized or how you've been challenged by the high expectations of teachers at school because everyone knows you are so smart are not appropriate topics.

Also, don't write about something completely negative . Your response needs to show that you got something out of your challenge or failure and that you've learned skills you can apply to other situations.

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Spilling your coffee is not an appropriate failure, no matter how disastrous it may feel.

Common App Essay Prompt 3: Challenging a Belief

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

There are two ways to approach this question. The first is to talk about a time you questioned a person or group on an idea of theirs. The second is to talk about a time that something caused you to reconsider a belief of your own.

In either case, you need to explain why you decided the belief should be challenged, what you actually did —if your story is just that someone gave you a new piece of information and you changed your mind, you should probably find a different topic— and how you feel about your actions in hindsight .

The obvious question this prompt raises is what your values are and whether you're willing to stand up for what you believe . Whether you've reconsidered your own beliefs or asked others to reconsider theirs, it shows you've put genuine thought into what you value and why.

However, colleges also want to see that you're open minded and able to be fair and kind toward those who have different beliefs than you do. Can you question someone else's beliefs without belittling them? If not, don't choose this prompt.

This prompt is really one where you either have a relevant story or you don't . If there's a belief or idea that's particularly important to you, whether political or personal, this might be a good question for you to address.

The main pitfall with this question is that it lends itself to very abstract answers . It's not that interesting to read about how you used to believe chocolate is the best ice cream flavor but then changed your mind and decided the best flavor is actually strawberry. (Seriously, though, what is wrong with you!?) Make sure there's clear conflict and action in your essay.

Divisive political issues, such as abortion and gun rights, are tricky to write about (although not impossible) because people feel very strongly about them and often have a hard time accepting the opposite viewpoint. In general, I would avoid these kinds of topics unless you have a highly compelling story.

Also, keep in mind that most people who work at colleges are liberal, so if you have a conservative viewpoint, you'll need to tread more carefully. Regardless of what you're writing about, don't assume that the reader shares your views .

Finally, you want to avoid coming off as petty or inflexible , especially if you're writing about a controversial topic. It's great to have strong beliefs, but you also want to show that you're open to listening to other people's perspectives, even if they don't change your mind.

Common App Essay Prompt 4: Gratitude Reflection

Reflect on something that someone had done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

The first part is straightforward: describe a time someone did something positive for you that made you happy or thankful  in a surprising way.  So it can't have been something you expected to happen (i.e. your parents gave you the birthday present you were hoping for).

Next, you need to explain how that surprising gratitude affected or motivated you. So, what was the result of this positive feeling?  How did you keep it going?

This prompt helps admissions officers see both what your expectations are for certain situations and how you react when things go differently than expected. Did you take it in stride when you were pleasantly surprised? Were you too shocked to speak? Why? What about the situation wasn't what you were expecting?  Additionally, it shows them what you personally are grateful for. Gratitude is an important personal characteristic to have. What in life makes you thankful and happy? Your answer will show admissions officers a lot about what you value and how you think.

Finally—and this is the key part—they want to know the larger impact of this gratitude. Did you decide to pay it forward? Use it as motivation to better yourself/your world? When something good happens to you, how do you react?

Because this is a reflection prompt, it's a great way to show admissions officers the kind of person you are and what you value. You'll have a lot of surprising moments, both good and bad, in college, and they want to know how you deal with them and how you spread the happiness you come across.

You can choose any event, even a minor one, as long as your reaction is  unexpected happiness/gratefulness. The "unexpected" part is key. You need to choose a situation where things didn't go the way you expected. So if your uncle, who has always been a great mentor, gives you great advice, that likely won't work because you'd be expecting it.

Next, it had to have had some sort of real impact so you can explain how your gratefulness affected you. This means that, even if the event itself was small, it had to have brought about some sort of lasting change in how you live your life.

To start, brainstorm times when something went better than expected/you were happily surprised by an outcome/you were especially grateful/someone restored your faith in humanity. Remember, this has to be, overall, a positive situation, as you're being asked about an event that made you happy or grateful. This is in contrast to prompts 2 and 3 which focus more on challenges you've faced.

Once you have your list, eliminate any instances that didn't affect or motivate you. The key part of this prompt is explaining the impact of your gratitude, so you need to write about a time when gratitude made you do something you normally wouldn't have done. This could be focusing on self-care/self-improvement, paying it forward by helping someone else, shifting your values, etc. Colleges want to see how you changed because of this event.

For example, say you decide to write about your first time traveling through an airport alone. You're not sure where to go, and all the workers look busy and like they're just waiting for their break. You're wandering around, lost, too shy to ask someone for help, when a gruff-looking employee comes up and asks if you need something. When you admit you don't know how to find your gate, they take the time to walk you to it, show you which screen to watch so you know when to board, and tell you to come get them if you need any more help. It's much more help than you thought anyone would give you.

Because of that person's actions (and this is the key part), you now always keep an eye out for people who look lost or confused and try to help them because you know how intimidating it can be to be out of your depth. You also know that many times people feel embarrassed to ask for help, so you need to make the first move to help them. If you have a specific example of you helping someone in need as a result, including that will make the essay even stronger.

Avoid scenarios where you were the first person to help another. The prompt is asking about a time someone was kind to you, and  then  you reacted in response to that. You need to have the grateful moment first, then the change in behavior.

Additionally, avoid examples where someone treated you badly but you rose above it. This is a situation where someone was kind to you, and you decided to keep that kindness going.

body_problemsolving

Look at those dummies, solving a problem!

Common App Essay Prompt 5: Personal Growth and Maturity

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

Like Prompt 1, this one is very general. It's asking you to talk about something you did or something that happened that caused you to grow or mature as a person.

The other key point to remember when addressing this question is that you need to explain how this event changed or enriched your understanding of yourself or other people.

In short: when and how have you grown as a person ? Personal growth and maturity are complicated issues. Your essay might touch on themes such as personal responsibility and your role in the world and your community.

You don't have to explain your whole worldview, but you need to give readers a sense of why this particular event caused significant growth for you as a person.

This prompt can also help you show either your own sense of self-concept or how you relate to others.

Much like Prompt 3, this question likely either appeals to you or doesn't . Nonetheless, here are some potential topics:

  • A time you had to step up in your household
  • A common milestone (such as voting for the first time or getting your driver's license) that was particularly meaningful to you
  • A big change in your life, such as becoming an older sibling or moving to a new place

It's important that your topic describes a transition that led to real positive growth or change in you as a person .

However, personal growth is a gradual process, and you can definitely still approach this topic if you feel you have more maturing to do. (Fun fact: most adults feel they have more maturing to do, too!) Just focus on a specific step in the process of growing up and explain what it meant to you and how you've changed.

Almost any topic could theoretically make a good essay about personal growth, but it's important that the overall message conveys maturity . If the main point of your essay about junior prom is that you learned you look bad in purple and now you know not to wear it, you'll seem like you just haven't had a lot of meaningful growth experiences in your life.

You also want the personal growth and new understanding(s) you describe in your essay to be positive in nature . If the conclusion of your essay is "and that's how I matured and realized that everyone in the world is terrible," that's not going to work very well with admissions committees, as you'll seem pessimistic and unable to cope with challenges.

Common App Essay Prompt 6: Your Passion

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 prompt is asking you to describe something you're intellectually passionate about .

But in addition to describing a topic of personal fascination and why you're so interested in it, you need to detail how you have pursued furthering your own knowledge of the topic . Did you undertake extra study? Hole yourself up in the library? Ask your math team coach for more practice problems?

Colleges want to admit students who are intellectually engaged with the world. They want you to show that you have a genuine love for the pursuit of knowledge .

Additionally, by describing how you've learned more about your chosen topic, concept, or idea, you can prove that you are self-motivated and resourceful .

Pretty much any topic you're really interested in and passionate about could make a good essay here, just as long as you can put can put an intellectual spin on it and demonstrate that you've gone out of your way to learn about the topic.

So It's fine to say that the topic that engages you most is football, but talk about what interests you in an academic sense about the sport. Have you learned everything there is to know about the history of the sport? Are you an expert on football statistics? Emphasize how the topic you are writing about engages your brain.

Don't pick something you don't actually care about just because you think it would sound good.

If you say you love black holes but actually hate them and tortured yourself with astronomy books in the library for a weekend to glean enough knowledge to write your essay, your lack of enthusiasm will definitely come through.

Common App Essay Prompt 7: Your Choice

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.

You can write about anything for this one!

Since this is a choose-your-own-adventure prompt, colleges aren't looking for anything specific to this prompt .

However, you'll want to demonstrate some of the same qualities that colleges are looking for in all college essays: things like academic passion, maturity, resourcefulness, and persistence. What are your values? How do you face setbacks? These are all things you can consider touching on in your essay.

If you already have a topic in mind for this one that doesn't really fit with any of the other prompts, go for it!

Avoid essays that aren't really about you as a person. So no submitting your rhetorical close-reading of the poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn" you wrote for AP English!

However, if you want to write about the way that "Ode on a Grecian Urn" made you reconsider your entire approach to life, go ahead.

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The Common App Essay Questions: 5 Key Takeaways

We've covered a lot of ground, but don't panic. I've collected the main ideas you should keep in mind as you plan your Common App essay below.

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#1: A Prompt 1 Topic Must Go Beyond What's in the Rest of Your Application

For prompt 1, it's absolutely vital that your topic be something genuinely meaningful to you . Don't write about something just because you think it's impressive. Big achievements and leadership roles, such as serving as captain of a team or winning a journalism award, can certainly be used as topics, but only if you can explain why they mattered to you beyond that it was cool to be in charge or that you liked winning.

It's better if you can pick out something smaller and more individual , like helping your team rally after a particularly rough loss or laboring over a specific article to make sure you got every detail right.

#2: Prompts 2, 4, and 6 Are Generally the Simplest Options

Most students have an experience or interest that will work for either Prompt 2, Prompt 4, or Prompt 6. If you're uncertain what you want to write about, think about challenges you've faced, a time you were grateful, or your major intellectual passions.

These prompts are slightly easier to approach than the others because they lend themselves to very specific and concrete topics that show clear growth. Describing a failure and what you learned from it is much simpler than trying to clarify why an event is a vital part of your identity.

#3: Prompts 3 and 5 Can Be Trickier—but You Don't Need to Avoid Them

These questions ask about specific types of experiences that not every high school student has had. If they don't speak to you, don't feel compelled to answer them.

If you do want to take on Prompt 3 or 5, however, remember to clearly explain your perspective to the reader , even if it seems obvious to you.

For Prompt 3, you have to establish not just what you believe but why you believe it and why that belief matters to you, too. For prompt 5, you need to clarify how you moved from childhood to adulthood and what that means to both you and others.

These prompts elicit some of the most personal responses , which can make for great essays but also feel too revealing to many students. Trust your instincts and don't pick a topic you're not comfortable writing about.

At the same time, don't hesitate to take on a difficult or controversial topic if you're excited about it and think you can treat it with the necessary nuance.

#4: Make Sure to Explain What Your Experience Taught You

I've tried to emphasize this idea throughout this guide: it's not enough to simply describe what you did—you also have to explain what it meant to you .

Pushing past the surface level while avoiding clichés and generalizations is a big challenge, but it's ultimately what will make your essay stand out. Make sure you know what personal quality you want to emphasize before you start and keep it in mind as you write.

Try to avoid boring generalizations in favor of more specific and personal insights.

Bad: Solving a Rubik's cube for the first time taught me a lot.

Better: Solving a Rubik's cube for the first time taught me that I love puzzles and made me wonder what other problems I could solve.

Best: When I finally twisted the last piece of the Rubik's cube into place after months of work, I was almost disappointed. I'd solved the puzzle; what would I do now? But then I started to wonder if I could use what I'd learned to do the whole thing faster. Upon solving one problem, I had immediately moved onto the next one, as I do with most things in life.

As you go back through your essay to edit, every step of the way ask yourself, "So what?" Why does the reader need to know this? What does it show about me? How can I go one step deeper?

#5: Don't Worry About What You Think You're Supposed to Write

There is no single right answer to these prompts , and if you try to find one, you'll end up doing yourself a disservice. What's important is to tell your story—and no one can tell you what that means because it's unique to you.

Many students believe that they should write about resume-padding activities that look especially impressive, such as volunteering abroad. These essays are often boring and derivative because the writer doesn't really have anything to say on the topic and assumes it'll speak for itself.

But the point of a personal statement isn't to explain what you've done; it's to show who you are .

Take the time to brainstorm and figure out what you want to show colleges about yourself and what story or interest best exemplifies that quality.

What's Next?

For more background on college essays and tips for crafting a great one, check out our complete explanation of the basics of the personal statement .

Make sure you're prepared for the rest of the college application process as well with our guides to asking for recommendations , writing about extracurriculars , taking the SAT , and researching colleges .

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 ;points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Alex is an experienced tutor and writer. Over the past five years, she has worked with almost a hundred students and written about pop culture for a wide range of publications. She graduated with honors from University of Chicago, receiving a BA in English and Anthropology, and then went on to earn an MA at NYU in Cultural Reporting and Criticism. In high school, she was a National Merit Scholar, took 12 AP tests and scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and ACT.

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2020-2021 Common App Essay Prompts

January 30, 2020

common app college essay prompts 2020

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

This well-worn idiom captures the mindset of the decision-makers at the Common Application who announced this January that the essay prompts for the upcoming 2020-21 admissions cycle will be the same as they were in 2019-20. In the opinion of the College Transitions staff, the choice not to tinker was a wise one. A quick look at the data shows that the prompts, as presently constituted, received rave reviews across the board—more than 95% of admissions officers, guidance counselors, parents, and students rated the selections positively.

In this blog we will review:

  • What are the 2020-21 Common Application Prompts?
  • The most popular Common App prompts that students choose
  • Advice on brainstorming/writing your Common App essay

The 2020-21 Common Application Prompts are…

#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 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?

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

#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, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

#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?

#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

Which prompts are most popular?

In 2018-19, the most frequently selected topic was #7, the “topic of your choice” essay. This prompt was chosen by 24.1% of applicants. Prompt #5, the “discuss an accomplishment” essay was a close second, attracting 23.7% of seniors. The bronze medal went to prompt #2, the “challenge, setback, or failure” themed essay, which netted 21.1% of Common App filers. Overall, the three most popular prompts accounted for 68.9% of applicants.

These rankings changed slightly from the 2017-18 cycle, when prompt #5 held a slight advantage over prompt #7 for the top spot and the third place finisher was actually #1—the “background, identity, interest, or talent” prompt.

Advice on brainstorming/writing your essay

  • At College Transitions, we offer advice for each stage of the writing process and invite you to revisit previous posts on Common App essay related topics.
  • Our Simple Truths about the College Essay will give you a broad overview of what you are hoping to accomplish with your 650-word opportunity to express a compelling and original aspect of yourself.
  • Even if you are only a junior finishing up your first semester, it is never too early to begin thinking about your Common App essay. In fact, getting an early start can relieve stress during the hectic admissions frenzy of your senior year and result in a superior and more polished product. Visit our Brainstorming the Common Application Essay to learn where you should start.
  • If you’re still stuck in neutral, consult Part I and Part II of our tips for “Getting those words on that page.”
  • Advice on what to do is useful, but tips on what not to do are of equal importance. Check out our Five Essay Topics to Avoid to discover what topics admissions officers are sure to find unappealing, off-putting, or downright gross.
  • If you are a real go-getter, you may also wish to get a start on the most prevalent Common App supplement required by colleges—the “Why this College Essay.” Reference our guide for mastering the “Why this College” essay .
  • College Essay

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Dave Bergman

Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).

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common app college essay prompts 2020

The 2021-2022 Common App Essay Prompts Are Here

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What’s Covered:

2021-2022 common app prompts, what has changed, tips for writing your common app essay.

  • How to Get Your Essay Reviewed for Free

The Common App recently released their essay prompts for the 2021-2022 admissions cycle, and unlike the past several years, the prompts are not the same as before.

In this post, we’ll go over the prompts, the changes, and tips for writing a strong Common App essay.

common app college essay prompts 2020

Here is a list of the prompts for this cycle. While they are largely unchanged, Prompt #4 is different this year (which is kind of a big deal, considering that the prompts have been the same since 2017).

Prompt #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.

Prompt #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?

Prompt #3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Prompt #4 (NEW): 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?

Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Prompt #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?

Prompt #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.

As usual, there are six prompts, with the seventh allowing you to write on a topic of your choice. The prompts are all the same except for Prompt #4. 

Here’s a side-by-side of the old and new versions of the prompt.

Before: 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.

After: 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?

While all Common App essays should be personal, the old prompt was more “scientific” and analytical than the new one. The focus of the essay was a problem, its relevance to your life, and how you found a solution (or how you would find a solution).

The theme of the new prompt is gratitude, and it is inherently more reflective than the old prompt, as the focus is a personal story. The new prompt is likely to apply to more students, but there are some potential tripwires to keep in mind.

A common mistake is to spend too much time elaborating on the “thing” that was done, or on the person who did it. While you should absolutely provide some context, the essay should mainly be about you and how this event impacted your life.

It’s also important to note that the prompt asks for an act that “made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. ” Admissions officers don’t want just a classic feel good story about an act of kindness. This act of kindness can be small or significant, but it should have a relatively big impact on your life that you may not have expected. The act itself may have also been surprising, or maybe your response to it was the unexpected part. 

While this prompt may seem straightforward, it’s actually encouraging a reflection on a nuanced situation. Some examples of good topics would be: 

  • Your friend signs you up for robotics even though you didn’t want to join at first, but then you discover a love for programming and want to use it to help build medical devices and prosthetics.
  • Your parents don’t approve of your artistic pursuits due to their immigrant background and desire for stability in “practical” careers, but after years of showing no interest in your art, they attend your gallery opening. This leads to a mutual understanding and inspires you to create art based on your parents’ struggles.

common app college essay prompts 2020

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1. Get a head start

The topics are out, so you should consider drafting your Common App essay before the rush of the fall semester. Once senior year begins, you’ll be dealing with schoolwork, supplemental essays, extracurriculars, and other responsibilities. Your Common App essay will go to most, if not all, of the schools on your list, so it’s important that you take the time to write, edit, and get feedback on your essay. 

Read our ultimate guide to the Common App essay (which will soon be updated with the new prompt) and take a look at some strong essay examples to get a better idea of what admissions officers are looking for.

2. Know what topics are good, and which ones to avoid

There are two ways to brainstorm your essay. You can either pick a prompt that resonates with you and look for a matching story from your life, or come up with a story essential to who you are and find a prompt to match.

Keep in mind that there are some essay topics to avoid, however. Some cliche college essay topics include:

  • Sports injury story
  • Working hard in a challenging class
  • Immigrant story
  • Tragedy (death, divorce, illness)
  • Volunteer trip
  • Your religion
  • Romantic relationships
  • Family pressure to pursue a particular field

In general, these topics are bad because they’re extremely common and too often focus on the event itself rather than you and your personality. This doesn’t mean you can’t cover these topics, but it’s very difficult to do so in an effective way (see the post linked above for tips on how to revamp these cliche topics).

On the flip side, some good topic ideas are:

  • A unique extracurricular activity or passion
  • An activity or interest that contrasts heavily with your profile
  • A seemingly insignificant moment that speaks to larger themes within your life
  • Using an everyday experience or object as a metaphor to explore your life and personality
  • An in the moment narrative that tells the story of a important moment in your life

These topics are much broader and allow for greater creativity. 

3. Answer the 4 core questions

The point of the Common App essay is to humanize your application and put a face to your transcript. That’s a tall order for only 650 words max! 

To make sure you’re sharing the fullest range possible of who you are, try to answer these four core questions in your essay:

  • Why Am I Here?
  • What is Unique About Me?
  • What Matters to Me?

4. Consider the different college essay structures

The Common App essay is a piece of creative storytelling, and not your typical analytical paper for school. You don’t necessarily want to write an essay with the standard introduction, thesis, and supporting body paragraphs. 

How should you structure your essay, then? Here are a few ideas:

  • In-the-moment narrative: Take us to a specific moment in time and share your story as it’s unfolding, using this moment as a segue into broader themes of your life.
  • Narrative told over an extended period of time: This structure allows you to cover several experiences, and is well-suited for those looking to highlight their long-term development.
  • Series of anecdotes, or montage: Use several scenes (that aren’t necessarily related or chronological) to highlight an element of your life or personality.

There are also unconventional essay structures that you may consider, such as writing a movie script or a poem. These are high risk, but also high reward if executed correctly.

Learn more about essay structures and see examples in our blog post.

5. Show, don’t tell

One common mistake students make is to simply state what happened in their essay, rather than to use storytelling techniques like imagery and dialogue. To keep your essay as engaging as possible, you need to bring us to these experiences and allow us to be there with you, rather than telling us what happened. 

Here’s an example of telling: “Running a half marathon was a challenge.”

And here’s an example of showing: “My shoe became untied at mile 11, so I paused and bent over to lace it back up. Pain shot through my lower back. I grimaced and let out an audible groan.”

Where to Get Your Essay Edited for Free

Once you clear the academic threshold for selective schools, your essays and extracurriculars are the deciding factors for admissions officers. In fact, your essays and extracurriculars matter almost as much as grades and test scores at top schools. Why is this? Most students applying to top schools will have stellar academics. Your essays and extracurriculars are your chance to stand out and share your personality.

This is especially true for the Common App essay, as the prompts invite reflection and personal storytelling. It’s vital that your essay is engaging and presents you as someone who would enrich the campus community.

Before submitting your application, you should have someone else review your Common App essay. It’s even better if that person doesn’t know you personally, as they can best tell whether your personality shines through your essay. 

That’s why we created our Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. We highly recommend giving this tool a try!

common app college essay prompts 2020

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January 29, 2020

2020-2021 Common Application Essay Prompts

common app college essay prompts 2020

The Common Application has released the essay prompts for the 2020-2021 college admissions cycle. Drumroll please. So what will be the prompts for current juniors come the time they apply to college in November and December of 2020? Wonder no more — we know it’s been keeping our readers up late into the night. The essay prompts will be the exact same essay prompts as they were for current seniors. We know. It’s a bombshell. This breaking news is surely deserving of a Pulitzer. In any case, why did the Common App. keep the Personal Statement essay prompts the same?

Why the Common App. Essay Prompts Will Stay the Same

As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” As Scott Anderson, Common App.’s Board Secretary and Senior Director on Access and Equity Team, writes on Common App.’s website, “As part of our commitment to making sure the essay prompts continue to serve students and Common App member colleges well, we invited feedback through a survey. Over the course of three weeks in December, over 10,000 people–two-thirds of them students–shared their thoughts. Here’s what we learned: The current prompts do their job well. Over 95% of every group who responded to the survey–students, counselors, teachers, admission officers–agree that the current prompts spark effective essays…Opinions about individual prompts are as diverse as the people who write and read the essays they inspire…There’s always room for improvement, even if the prompts stay the same.”

What the 2020-2021 Common Application Essay Prompts Are

So what are the prompts exactly? We’ve got them for our readers below, right from the horse’s — or shall we say Common App.’s — mouth.

“1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story.

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?

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

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

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging 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?

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.”

And we are in full agreement with Common App. that these prompts didn’t need to be changed one bit for the 2020-2021 application cycle. Now where’s our Pulitzer?

You are permitted to use www.ivycoach.com (including the content of the Blog) for your personal, non-commercial use only. You must not copy, download, print, or otherwise distribute the content on our site without the prior written consent of Ivy Coach, Inc.

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How To Write The 2020-21 Common App Essay

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common app college essay prompts 2020

Learn how to write an awesome Common App essay for every single prompt.

Yesh Datar will provide an in-depth breakdown of each of the Common App essay prompts, discussing how to write a great essay in response to each one. He'll also share his take on the essays and topics you shouldn't write about for each prompt.

Video Transcript

Do a quick audio and visual check. See if you guys can see. And then also hear me, let me know in the q&a box. The q&a box looks like the box that says ask a question. Just feel free to type in there. Yes, we can see and hear you, and then I'll get started.

Perfect. Thanks, Amad. Thanks, Lilian. Awesome, Jennifer. Thanks for letting me know. And yeah, before we get started, I'll just introduce myself for those who are new here. My name is Yesh. I am a current medical student at Boston University. And I've been working with CollegeVine for the past three years now. So really excited to talk to you guys today. I definitely found a really good passion about helping students and families navigate the admissions process. Alright, thanks, Barbie. Emma. Nice to see you guys here. Thanks, Tom. All right, let's dive into it. So let's start sharing my screen. And again, if you guys can't see anything, or the audio cuts out, feel free to let me know. In the q&a box. I'll be checking intermittently throughout this presentation. All right. So I just shared my screen. Hopefully you guys can see that. And yeah, so basically cadence for today is I'll be going through the presentation, as is. And then at the end, I'll be doing kind of a QA review. So I'll jump back into the q&a box, see the questions you guys have answered, the more so at the end, however, I'll be checking the q&a box intermittently, to see if there are any kind of pressing questions of a certain slide or anything like that, and then we'll get to it. Awesome. So yeah, can't wait for your questions. Let's get into it.

So welcome to today's presentation on the guide to the CommonApp essay. So first, before we even talk about the prompts, or how to approach the essays, we really have to talk about methodology. Right. So talking about the common FSA, the common app is an application that's shared by 100 800 or more colleges across the US. And it's used by most of the top 50 colleges. So if you're applying through the common app, chances are you'll find the School of your interest in the common app. And so a lot of students end up applying through it anyway. Within the common app, application elements are shared across multiple schools. So that includes things like details relevant to your educational background, your personal background, but also the essays, right, so the essays are pretty vital. And that's what we're gonna be talking about today. And the common app provides a good place to see all the essays that you have to respond to, for each school that you're applying to. And so it becomes very important to complete these essays to the best of your abilities. Because these are one of the biggest things that will be shared to all the schools that you're applying to. The common app essay is what we'll be talking about today. It's also often referred to as personal statement, another two synonymous with each other. So if I say a personal statement, I'm technically talking about the common MSA, it's a common up I say in front of the personal statement, right, they're interchangeable. At most, the maximum word count with common up as a 650 words, our recommendation is try to use between 550 to 650 words, try to use the entire real estate available to you. Because you know, this is where you really want to share a really cohesive story about yourself. And that's what admissions officers are looking for. And it's supposed to be done than 550 to 650 words. And you have a selection of seven prompts that can be responded to. And I just want to clarify, you don't have to respond to all seven prompts, you just have to respond to one of them. So you choose one out of the seven that really piques your interest, and you respond to only one of those out of the seven. So without further ado, here are the prompts, the common app prompts and somebody who probably have started writing your college essay others you are probably about to start writing. So this is kind of good refresher on what prompts to expect, and which prompts you might have chosen from so prompt one is 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 from 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? Number three, reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? prop four, describe the problem you solved or problem you'd like to solve. It can be intellectual challenge or research query and 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 solution. prompt five discuss an accomplishment event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth in a new industry. Have yourself or others. Six describe a topic idea or concept you find so engaging, and it makes you lose track of all time. Why does it captivate you? What, or who do you turn to when you want to learn more, and then finally prompts up. This is kind of a free for also free form kind of essay where you can share an essay on any topic of your choice. We want, you've already written one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Great. So again, most of the presentation, the first half, the presentation will be more about methodology of the CommonApp. So now we're going to start breaking down really why the CommonApp matters in the first place, we'll talk about ideas about how to write good essays, then we'll break down each essay prompt individually. So the common app essay matters a lot in admissions, because they're the main way that admissions officers get to know you as a person. Note that the rest of your application is mostly stats or facts on a page. So things like your GPA, your test scores, your extracurriculars can convey very quantitative measures of who you are as an applicant. But the essays and letters recommendation, for example, are very personal ways of telling the admissions committee who you are. So that's why it becomes very important. This is how you can share your message. A question that I anticipate getting that I often get in these kind of webinars is about because of COVID? How has it impacted the idea of GPA or test score? And how are essays and letters recommendations kind of seen now, right? So because of COVID, the weight of a GPA or test score has decreased. And why because students can't really study as effectively home, they not might not perform well on tests. And also a lot of students can't take standardized tests because of the environment they're in. Right. So the weight of GPA and standardized test scores have gone down. And in place that things like essays and letters of recommendation have actually increased in weight. So it's very important, especially in this COVID era, to have really strong essays.

Also note that the common app essay will be specially seen by every college that you apply to where supplemental essays are only seen by one college at a time. So the common FSA is one essay that sounds to every single school in the CommonApp system, while supplemental essays requested individually by each school, right. So for example, from Cornell, or RPI, they ask for supplemental essay, I'm going to write directly to them, it's only going to go to that one school, not all the other schools, while for right common, I bet say it's going to go to both schools, Cornell and RPI individually, right. So that's why the common FSA is really important, because it's going to a lot more schools than just one supplemental essay. And so because of these kind of reasons I've laid out, the essay is the single most impactful thing you'll write during the business process period. To make a really strong CommonApp essay, you definitely want to make sure that your essay is deeply personal. The single most important thing that your CommonApp has to achieve is winning over the admissions officer on a personal level, you want them to walk away from me in your essay as an advocate for your mission. At selective schools, one or more admissions officers actually have to advocate forcefully for you in a committee. So they're in that rate, you have to really story a portion of cord with the admissions officer for them to want to accept you into the university. And so establishing a deeply personal story that connects the admissions reader, as if they're seeing the person on the other side is very, very important. In order to do this, your essay must reveal things about you that can't be learned just by reading your resume or transcript. Again, it's not just kind of writing an essay that shows off a lot of things that your resume is writing an essay that characterizes who you are in one particular aspect of your life, and will kind of break this down a little bit. Your goal is to show much more about who you are, again, those characteristics that traits, how you see the world, not about what you've done. So not really listing those resume type things in essay form. At the end of the day, you also want the reader to feel your emotions as they read the essay and become invested in your positive outcome or journey. Right. So a lot of this will involve being vulnerable in the essay, being open to talking about motions in the moment, rather than kind of just writing narrative on narrative. So that's how you kind of let the admissions officer be in your own shoes, kind of feel what you're feeling the moment and eventually kind of side with your story and strike a personal quarter theme itself. So so that begs the question, how do you create the personal connection in the first place? Right. And before we dive into that, I'm just gonna check the q&a box. I think we're good there. We also have an event coming up today at 6pm. Eastern. It's an introduction to undergrad business schools. So if you guys are interested in applying to business schools across the US, this is a really good live stream to kind of figure out what a business will entail. And how to choose the best one for you, specifically your interest in business. So definitely check out this live stream if you're interested.

Alright, so to create this personal connection that I mentioned before, your essay definitely need to explore these following concepts. So concept one is talking about how you think about the world around you both something's happening, and upon further reflection. So what do you mean by that, you're trying to explain how you see the world around you, not just the immediate environment, but the people. So admissions officers curious about how you interact with other people, or how you interact with the world, and how you emotionally respond to the world. Right. So it seems very abstract when I'm talking about it. But when you start to contextualize that into an essay, it's really about describing things through your own lens, and not just kind of how a typical person would describe an event environment or the people they see. Right. So you kind of want to provide your own personal insight to the world around you, essentially. The second concept is a demonstration of your core values, you don't just want to state them, but you want to exemplify them as specific things. So by that is, you don't just want to say, I'm a very happy person, right? In your essay, that just stating, right, you're saying you're really happy person. Rather, to make a strong essay, you want to show off or exemplify in specific things that you've done, that you are a happy person. So maybe that might be how you describe the environment around you could show that you're happy person, or describe your passion for something that you're doing. That's implicitly telling the admissions officer that you're a happy person. And implicitly, you're going to make a stronger essay by doing it that way. And then the third thing you want to include in your essay, third concept is talking about how you respond emotionally to different situations and aspects of your background, both in the moment and over time. So again, this comes back to the idea of talking more from an emotional lens, right? Sharing, being open to sharing your current state of emotions, whether it be frustration, or validation, or relief or joy, right. And again, don't just state those things, but show them through your own words, show them through your tone, to make it a really strong kind of storytelling that happens in the CommonApp as a. Cool, and definitely feel free to ask questions. To kind of clarify these topics. I know they're kind of abstract at the moment. But hopefully, I'll clarify them as I go through through certain examples. So other great hallmarks of a common FSA would be one to avoid cliche or common topics. Note that admissions officers read thousands and thousands of essays per cycle. For example, on music, and sports. So if your topic is cliched or common, then your essay has to be much stronger to stand out. So a typical way to kind of assess if an essay is cliche, is to think about if the end of the story is predictable or not. Right? So if I'm reading the essay, can I predict what the ending will be? If I can, chances are that essays cliche, right? So for example, if I was a star quarterback of my high school football team, and I got injured, right, okay, so now I'm reading an essay about that I'm reading an essay about it. And I'm gonna anticipate that maybe the star quarterback, at the end of the essay kind of wins a championship, or kind of fails, but tries really hard to do so. Right? Sort of a predictable ending at that point, right? It's very kind of one line, I'm thinking has to do with sports probably has to do with winning a sport or something like that. very predictable, cliche topic. Now, the question is how to make it more unique, less cliche, maybe have a less predictable ending. So maybe the star quarterback got injured, and then turned to a different sport, where his dexterity, his coordination, his sense of balance, actually did do serve him well, right. And maybe that was ballet dancing. So this quarterback got injured, and then decided to pursue ballet dancing, and had a really strong kind of background did that and excelled in that, right? In that way. It's a very less cliche ending, less predictable ending, so that actually make a stronger essay. Right? So that's just an example. But hopefully, that kind of clarified that idea. Another hallmark of a great CommonApp essay is to be have well written an essay with strong grammar and high quality writing. This is definitely important that more selective schools, you also want to have strong flow and readability. And that often happens by getting someone else to read your essay if you can't use this for yourself. Then finally, like I talked about before, you want to take make use of the entire real estate of the essays that you have. So that often might look like making use of the full 650 words available to you on the Common App essay when it comes to essay structure, There's three structures that we typically see. The first is a narrative essay. So you tell one story from start to finish. It can be a moment in time, or chronological retelling of a longer narrative. It's usually based around one main theme as well. So an example of this is, maybe I just moved to a new high school. And so, and I've been at this high school for three years now. And I want to share that in my common FSA. So the start of my story will be started freshman year, and my story will be middle of junior year. Okay. So have a clear start, have a clear finish. And maybe the theme that I'm exploring is my passion for science, right? So across this experience in a new high school, I developed a passion for science, right? So that's an example of a narrative essay. Now, the second structure that we have is a series of anecdotes, or montage. This is typically a series of disconnected anecdotes are moments of time, and they reveal multiple themes. So what do I mean by that? So to extend upon the analogy of being a new high school student, maybe for every like two or three years, from first grade, all the way to high school, I kept moving to New schools. So maybe at each new school, it was a new story that I want to tell across my kind of timeline of education, right? So I want to put that in my comrade the story. So each school, maybe I learned something new about myself, I learned something new about science, right. And that's what I want to convey in my comment, per se. So I could do that. And that way, it would be a series of anecdotes across multiple high schools, it almost be like a montage of different kind of educational things that all line up into one timeline that reveal multiple themes about myself. Cool. And then finally, the last essay structure is unconventional structure. So what does that look like? So maybe if I'm passionate about computer science, I would write my essays and lines of code. Or if I'm an avid Shakespeare Pran, I could write my essays in ionic pentameter, right? So again, it's kind of like whatever you want to do with it. But it is definitely high risk, high reward. So if I'm writing my essay about poetry, I'm not going to write my essays structurally in lines of code, right? It wouldn't really make sense. So you definitely have to match the structure of your essay with the content of your essay, make sure they line up. And that's why we typically say this is a higher bar for success. If it's not done quite well, it's kind of risky, might not sit well with the admissions officer in the first place. Okay. So other general content guidelines, your essay should be mostly about you, as a high schooler, it's okay to reference an event pi school, we have to bring the essay route to who you are today. Very important, because you're applying as a high school student into college. admissions officers really don't care about who were, say five or 10 years ago, for the most part. So unless all that's very instrumental to your upbringing, and influences who you are today, might not be as relevant to include in your essay. your essay should also be about a personal experience, not about other events in world history. But if you feel a connection to a world event, you must bring it back to your personal engagement with that event. So again, this kind of goes back to the point that I made before, if you're going to talk about external men around you need to bring it back to who you are, and talk about it from your own perspective. your essay shouldn't be about your experience with the Coronavirus, you can either write about that responded to the COVID prompt or responding to the additional info section. And finally, know your audience called admissions officers, especially at selective and private colleges tend to be very progressive. So it's okay to talk about more progressive ideas, they actually might kind of look upon it favorably. However, say if you're applying to a university like Liberty University, with no be more conservative, you might not talk about say like LGBTQ rights, for example, because it might not sit well with them in terms of admissions, right. So just kind of keep the university that you're applying for in mind. Some other guidelines that we just want to mention, your essay shouldn't have a title. We say this because that is kind of eat out the word space. And it also really doesn't contribute much to the idea of the essay overall. your essay shouldn't use quotes from historical figures or famous people. We say this because we'd rather you put things into your own words, not going to repeat words from someone else. your essay shouldn't have any content that's inappropriate, racist, sexist, homophobic. And unless it's in dialogue or using a very precise way, generally avoid slang and dialect as well. All right, awesome.

So just I'll take the moment here to introduce another event that we have coming up. It's a live profile review session, coming tomorrow at 4:30pm Eastern where You'll have a chance to submit profiles ahead of time, 30 minutes before the event. And based on the amount of submissions, we'll get probably a review about 10 profiles on average these events. And we'll be giving you a good idea of based on skills that you want to apply to and your profile background, how good of a chance that you have to get into these colleges. So if you're interested in kind of having your profile read, definitely registered for this event, and submit your profiles ahead of time. Okay, so I do see two questions real quick. Barbie asks, Is the CommonApp limited to the US? No, it's not. It's available to international students as well. Another question from Lance. Hi, greetings from Belize. Hello, would you suggest incorporating examples of activities you participated in? So I mentioned before that on the common app, we usually don't want to put in a lot of kind of resume type material. However, we'll kind of get to this in a bit. But if there's a story that involves one of the activities, or maybe two or three of the activities that you did, might be relevant to talk about that activity. However, we don't want to kind of start including a lot of different activities that aren't as relevant to the storytelling that's going on with the content.

So you want to be aware of what activities you're sharing? And if they're kind of relevant to what idea you want to express about yourself.

Monica has a really good question. So as a rule about not including quotes, district No, not really. And we'll kind of get to this in a bit as well. So you can share quotes, as long as you're not using them to kind of just supplement or supplant words that you could have used yourself. So we'll kind of get to that.

Right. You also want to think of your CommonApp essay as a portfolio as well. So along with the CommonApp essays, you're going to have your supplemental essays that to be submitted to the school. So because of this, we oftentimes suggests that take into account all the different essays that you're going to write across your applications. And make sure you're not repeating ideas in your supplemental essays. So each essay should convey something different about you should keep in mind the other essays you're going to write when picking your common topic. So, for example, if I'm applying to another school, so UC Berkeley, for example, maybe that's not a good example. They're not in the Congo. Let's say, let's say, oh, let's go RPI gun. Okay. So say I'm applying to RPI. And they ask, why do you want to be an engineer? Right? There's supplemental essays asking them. So I read an essay I said to them, but then I realized my common FSA also talked about me wanting to be an engineer. To some level, it's redundant to share those two essays to one school, because they're just going to get to the same assets. So before you even start writing the essay, it's better to plan ahead of time and think to yourself, if I'm going to submit an essay to RPI, talking about why I want to be an engineer. Why would I repeat the same ideas in my common app essay? Why don't I talk about something else? So a good idea there in that case, is think qualities that make a good engineer, could be creativity could be leadership. Right? Right. in common. If I say about you being creative person, are you being a leader, rather than you being an engineer, right. So that's a good example. And then kind of last point about this portfolio idea is you want to create a comprehensive narrative across your essays, right? So you're trying to create a picture of yourself throughout all these multiple essays that are writing to the admissions reader. So it'd be very helpful to think ahead of time, think of the characteristics that are most embodied by you, and then share stories that relate those characteristics to your audience.

Then there's also the aspect of getting feedback on your assets. You can ask a teacher, parent, friend or older classmate, and then CollegeVine also offers this tool called a live essay review. So we do these live essay reviews on live streams. So we do have live essay review events, which you can sign up for. But we also have a pure essay review tool, where you can virtually submit your essays to our website, and we can have someone grade and review your essays for you. In terms of getting feedback in your essays, you can also ask multiple readers, typically four or five. in advance, we want to know what you want them to take away from your essay. And then after they've read your essay, you can see if the takeaways that you want them to get are the same ones that they got after reading yourself. You want to ask them questions like this Feel true to who I am as person. And does this sound like me? Oftentimes, you know, after four or five people read your essay, everyone's kind of have their own opinions, everyone's going to have one, insert something into your essay, or take something away. That you know the essay could stop sounding like you had a certain point, or if not written correctly, could just not sound like you to start with, right. So these are some things that you want to check in on. And just make sure you're doing accurately, the best way to do that is have people read your essays. Because at the end of the day, you know, someone, some admissions officer is going to read your essays in the first place.

Alright, let's break down the pumps.

So the first pump, like I've read before, some students have the background energy interests or account that is so meaningful, they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. So if we respond to this question by either identifying the background or identity, you want to focus on deep intense reflection on something that is more specific situation or challenge. So for example, you could talk about colorism in the South Asian or African American community, or how immigration enforcement affects family relationships in the Hispanic community. So see how these things aren't directly about, say, a kind of vague cultural background or identity, we're really identifying specific things within those communities that are impactful to the student's life. If you connect an underpinning of your culture, or background to an academic interest, or something non cultural, that could also be interesting. So for example, maybe your parents are super oriented around order cleanliness in the house, whether that's parent of workers, or cultural, if you're Japanese American, you could tie that to why you love the order and precision of double entry, bookkeeping, and accounting that you discovered via the school store and fbla. And why you want to pursue that in college. Right. So here's another specific example of how cultural influences the way you see things, and how that kind of your own perspective influences what you like. So, very, very interesting exploration. Also, note that background identity can be religion, or politics. But note that these are contentious cultural issues, they carry more risk when being read by admissions officer dushyant more conservative schools. And for that reason, you want to keep in mind the culture of the school. If you're gonna respond as prompt in terms of identity or interest, the biggest mistake is writing about what you've already done. You must connect to deeper personality traits or insights about your worldview. You really can't allow this essay to read like a resume in paragraph four. So sometimes it's good to focus on an interest in talent that isn't on the resume in that humanistic step.

So for example, if you're gonna talk about background, Genji, it could be a dominant personal trait. Also don't sleep on regional state, or even town culture as an element here. Culture doesn't always have to be fine, again, by religion, or politics or anything like that. It can really just be something that's stems from a geographic place. You can reflect on your privilege, but you need to do so in a way that is thoughtful as well. Definitely identify essays that identity essays can sometimes come off as an original, particularly if reading something like the immigrant story. immigrant stories are oftentimes cliche, right? So if I start reading an immigrant story, it almost predict the ending that there's some assimilation that happens, and kind of amount of comfort grows with the student. Make it unique, right? So you want to be careful that if you're writing an immigrant story, for example, it's not kind of super unoriginal, right. And identity. Identity essays, oftentimes fall into that bucket of being cliche, unfortunately. Right on the prompt to 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? What did you learn from the experience? The immediate temptation, a lot of people fall to it, is to write about an academic or extracurricular failure. This can be done, but there's two issues. One, there's a sense of proportion failure, or a challenge is relatively mundane. So for example, not winning an award at a Model UN Conference, writing an essay about that can come off as very privileged, right. And then number two topics can also be cliched. 650. essays in one cycle, are about getting better at cross country or tennis. Right. So when writing about academics, or extracurriculars, keep in mind these two things, the scope of your problem Is it extensive? Does it concern kind of just localized your high school, it does it impact a lot of people. And then also how many people probably write essays about this in the first place. So definitely kind of be aware of these larger facts, before even attempting to write these essays to make sure that your essays aren't cliche, kind of original to you. So instead of writing, say about academic, or extracurricular kind of success, or failure, maybe a personal emotional adversity or failures can provide a much better foundation for your story. So for example, talking about losing a friend, a family member. Ideally, what you're aiming to show here is how you respond when you're emotional, or otherwise destabilized? And how do you respond to those events? In the moment, and with other people around? You also want to talk about how do you develop or grow as a result of this better? And that's critical. A lot of the essay shouldn't just be talking about what the failure was, or what led up to failure. Ideally, a majority of the essay should be talking about after the failure, and how you grew from the failure. Right? So this question is really three parts. First sentence is literally asking, what is that failure that you encounter? Second part is asking, How did it affect you? And then third, is asking, what did you learn from the experience? Right? There's three questions to answer in this one prompt, it's a little difficult. But if done right, it should be more focused on how the failure affected you. And then what you learn from it as well. Another note is if you faced adversity, like racism, sexual assault, bigotry, poverty, it's definitely kind of looked favorably to write about these things. Because they, they tie in a lot of emotional sentiment, right? It could be a very emotional story that you'd be sharing with admissions reader, and it might wreck a personal court. All right. Before we go on to prompt three, I'll take a look at the q&a box. And then we have another event coming up October 14 at 4:30pm. Eastern, the Ultimate Guide to BS MD programs. So if you're interested in applying to these guaranteed medical programs, definitely check out this live stream. We'll be walking through how do I apply these programs? What kind of like the ideal student is? What are the programs that exist? And talk through some of those larger ideas?

Yeah, Abigail was really great question. Does your topic need to be sad story or something big? Or can it be something that is a daily struggle? Very, very good question. So we'll get that in a bit. But kind of long story short, it can be something that is daily struggle, not everyone's going to have a huge sad story or something momentous that's happened in their life, that's totally fine. It's really just about explaining who you are, as a result of your daily life. There might be small things that kind of happen in your life that better describe who you are. And that's might make a more kind of richer essay in the first place.

Just there asked, good question. What should you do for a good immigration story? Yeah. So what I will say is that everyone kind of has their own immigration story. For most first generation students, I'll say that the immigration story isn't about students about the parents, right, for the most part. So because of that, a lot of essays written about immigration, will be from the perspective of the parents journey, which is kind of away from who the student is in the first place. Right? So if you're going to write an immigration story, first thing is to consider who you actually writing about, are you writing about parents? Are you writing about the students? Are you writing about yourself, right? Ideally, you'd be writing about yourself, because that's what matters more to the admissions rate. So this is who you really want to kind of talk about that should be the central focus of the essay. So when writing a good migration story, First, start talking about yourself more. Other things to consider are what makes your story unique compared to the other interviewers and story out there. There's definitely some unique twists that you can make. And that'll kind of limit the amount of cliche things that you've put into this story in the first place. So think about those two things. I think that's kind of what immediately comes to mind for me. Right. One last question from Felicia, that will get back to the PowerPoint. Felicia asked for the slide presentation be available somewhere on your website? Yes, well, so the presentations recorded under the live stream section of CollegeVine. So in the top bar of the CollegeVine website, there's a live stream drop down tab. Click that and go to live streams. You'll see recordings of today's event in the on demand section. Then the recording will also be sent to you within 24 hours as well.

Right? properly reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged the belief or idea, what prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? This is sometimes difficult for high schools to answer, especially since you've participated in genuine protest. If, for example, unless you participated in genuine protest against social ills. A lot of high schoolers will write about these kind of larger problems in society. Unfortunately, it might be more of a trend and kind of their Instagram page or something like that, rather than them actually being deeply involved in these activities. So if you're responding to this prompt, careful to not jump onto a trend, if you're not personally affected by this adversity or the challenge, right. And that's very important. Because if you're not directly affected by this challenge, and you kind of jump onto a trend, you're not going to write really substantial and moving essay in the first place. And admissions officers want to know if you're actually kind of impacted by these adversities and how involved you are in the first place. So when approaching this prompt, you can discuss a time when you went against social norms within your school club or organization, for example. But you can also discuss a smaller but meaningful change in a work environment or extra curricular experience. I've got like the scale here can be large, it can be small, kind of getting back to Abigail's question about can something be daily struggle. And that's very true, right? Just make sure that these things are something that has impacted your life. So for example, it doesn't have to be something big. So maybe I couldn't participate in gymnastics growing up, because I had to take care of my single parent mother, who, well, sorry, I had to take care of my younger brother, because my single parent mother was working night and day shifts 24, seven, at the local diner, right. And because of that, we had a lot of family financial issues. So I couldn't really pursue my passion of gymnastics, instead, I'd take care of my little brother, right. So it's not like a huge issue that's affecting the world. But to you, that is a really big issue. And you had this really strong problem that you've solved, right? So that kind of gives an example what we mean by it doesn't have to be like a super grand scale. But it can be something small. Right? But really, these essays, reward reflection and introspection at the end of the day. With this prompt, you really have an opportunity to bring the reader inside your head. Oh, okay. So I just want to make sure you guys can see and hear me because I think Brian might not be able to see everyone or hear me. I'm just worrying if someone else is having technical issues, or is it just kind of a one person thing?

If not, can you guys just let me know in the q&a box.

You guys can still hear and see me just in case and then I'll chat Brian to let him know that if we're just having a technical issue, right. It's just kind of his gauge. Okay. Yeah. Thanks. Thanks, Elise. Okay, you guys can all hear me see me girl just O'Brien.

Okay, perfect. Yeah. Thanks, guys for responding. Thanks, Mo. Samuel chill. Alright.

Okay. And then.

Okay, Jennifer gave me a tip. So if you guys are having tech issues, just refresh the page a couple times, it'll start working again. But thanks for your patience, guys. All right. But again, with this prompt, you definitely have an opportunity to bring the reader inside your head. So you can really show them your how you process durations, how you assess them, how you make decisions, how you think. And that's really critical when respondents comp in the first place. So again, it's not just defining what the challenge or belief is or the idea. It's really talking about how you process that in your head. And why are you making decisions the way you make them, not help maybe other people. All right, next up Tom Ford. Describe the problem you solve their problem you'd like to solve. It could be intellectual challenge or research query and ethical dilemma. Anything that is a personal importance, no matter the skill, explain its significance to you, and what steps you took or could be taken to identify solution. When this question saying that you can list anything of personal importance, it gives you a lot of freedom.

It allows you to explore more academic topics. But again, if you're going to talk about academics, you must approach your passion from a personal lens, right? So you can talk about, say, astronomy, or engineering or music. But those might be cliche topics, if you only talk about them at face value. You want to talk about those things from your own perspective.

Like I talked about before, you can address a hypothetical problem, but you must reference why you personally care about that topic. So for example, if you're going to talk about climate change, you must connect caring about climate change to a personal rational. Again, smaller scale problems tend to be more interesting to read about and stand out more as well.

So going back to abacos, question is really great question. And it kind of ties to a lot of problems. Lots of people will write about climate change and in racism, solving misogyny. But the real point is to be more specific in your responses.

So if I'm example, if I'm, I guess, curious about urban city planning or something, maybe I'll talk about zoning reform, or creating more roundabouts. If I care about tech, maybe I'll talk about building a social network with a privacy friendly business model. Or if I care about my rights, maybe I'll talk about finding a balance between free speech and minority protection.

If I care about curriculum development, making the culture of STEM AP classes more friendly to women, right. So specificity here is really key, especially for this prompt. That's where you can identify more unique things to talk about, and make them less cliche essays, for example.

Okay, I think Brian still having this issue, or maybe switch to a new browser that potentially use I don't think Brian can hear me or see me.

I'm just gonna respond to Brian.

Okay, Stella also had another suggestion. Sometimes you need to click on the video screen for the audio to journal. Right? So maybe that works Brian. Thanks, guys for these good tips. All right.

On promt five, discuss an accomplishment event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and new standard standing of yourself or others.

Here you can discuss a formal accomplishment or event, but you must discuss how it catalyzed personal growth, right. So again, it's not talking about the external thing. At the end of the day, it's talking about your own kind of understanding of the external thing, your own perspective. here talking about the more informal then, or the assertion, definitely more meaningful as well.

Most essays, if respond to this prompt, right, too much before innominate, after, or vice versa, right. So for writing an essay about growth, Ideally, we'd set up a picture of the before student and the after student, and how those things kind of transitioned over time. We don't want to focus too much on the before picture of who I am, or too much in the after picture, right? You want to balance that that's what we're trying to get out. Excuse me.

The main thing here is to define your personal growth and connect it to the event.

Again, the event is secondary to learning more about growth.

You're not really trying to explain. I mean, you are to some level, but you don't just want to explain what the event was, what those environmental things are. You want to talk about your own perspective, your own understanding in your own work from those environmental things.

There's a huge temptation to use this to highlight your biggest extraocular accomplishment or passion that can be done. But it can't just be listening what you accomplish. The essay should be about what's happening behind the scenes in your head and heart. So really, it's providing the logical means for what you're doing, as well as kind of what your passion is and why you're doing it in the first place.

Prompt six, discuss a topic idea or concept you find so engaging, that it makes you lose track of time. Why does it captivate you? What, or who do you trust? To when you want to learn more. Here, you can expand on a topic or concept that might be seemingly small, but make the essay more about you not the topic, you have an opportunity here to show your passion can use beautiful descriptive writing. So a lot of students kind of take advantage of this. So they find themselves to be good descriptive writers definitely go for it. However, if you're gonna address this prompt, you must address why you think why the thing captivates you in the first place, you don't just want to say that it's interesting to you. If you're going to be more creative and descriptive in your writing, you often want to kind of include this idea of talking about your senses or you feelings, right. It's more about this emotional kind of attachment to the thing that you're going to explain not just what the thing is in the first place. You can dive into an academic topic, but you want to be careful not to get too focused on the topic. Ideally, again, like keep talking about, you should show personal connection, a higher level intellectual element, or abstraction that you find interesting. And pick a topic that's one layer deeper than the subject itself.

So you're going to talk about economics, maybe for example, talk about market monetarism instead, right? So identify specific things that are more unique to you, or unique interests to demonstrate why these things are truly captivating to you. And then again, don't just describe these things.

Talk about from your own perspective, right. So admissions, readers want to hear things for your own voice, your own tone, it's really hard to do, but that's what you're gonna have to do to make a really strong accent.

And finally, prompt seven, share an essay on any topic of your choice, it can be one you've already written on the response to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

First off, you want to write the essay, after figuring out what you want to say, then figure out the prompt. This essay is also high risk, high reward, there's lots of freedom, I could get lots of danger. It's like we talked about before, in terms of writing an unconventional structure. Prop seven kind of feeds into that. So again, if you're excuse me, if you're interested in computer science, you might write your essays on lines of code. If you're interested in Shakespeare, you might use ionic pentameter. So kind of goes back into that line, high risk, because you don't know how it might be read by the reader. But there's also high reward because it could be done well, it could be very unique across other essays. Just note that you're still trying to achieve the same goals as with other essays. And you still must address who you are as a person and fulfill the other goals that we talked about throughout the livestream. With that, kind of jump into q&a. So I do see a lot of questions here. So I'll start kind of answering them.

Hopefully, Brian was able to figure out the live stream.

I think there's just some technical bugs sometimes, but it will be recorded anyway.

Okay, let's jump into questions here.

Okay, Barbie has a question. Is it important to write about an issue which we faced? Or can it be an issue we believe in? Yeah, so this is going back to a previous slide that I mentioned.

I think it's this.

Ah, okay. Yeah. No. All right. Well, basically, short answer, it can be something that can find it very, very, essentially, it should ideally be about an issue that you have faced could be an issue that you believe in. But what admissions officers care about is your personal involvement within this kind of issue, right? So if you're not deeply involved in it, or hasn't affected you, on a more personal level, it might not be worth kind of including, or it might not make a strong essay, because in some sense, you're not reading from a very personal place. So ideally, if you're going to write an essay about an issue that you want to solve, then you're going to have some personal involvement with that issue.

Right. Great question, though.

Ah, okay. Felicia asked great question. Can you answer two prompts if they're related to what you want to write about? So, I would kind of say that each of those seven prompts are in some ways unique to themselves, right?

They're kind of targeting different things. Um, there are overlapping ideas. For the most part, they're trying to get at different things about the student.

Right? So I was just kind of thinking of one prompt, it might have overlapped with the second prompt. But at the end of the day, you should just respond to one of those problems. So on the common app, when you're filling it out, you'll before submitting, you'll indicate which prompt to answer.

You can only click one of those, right.

So it's okay to have a mix of two prompts. But in some ways, it should ideally, just be one prompt that you're actually responding. Hopefully that clarified your question, feel free to kind of clarify with me in the q&a box if you want to. Okay, um, next question.

Okay, Samuel asked, great question. How do you make sure each essay line serves a unique purpose and transition with proceeding and succeeding sentences? Yeah, so you've kind of kind of hinted at what the answer to this question is, it's really about, before you start writing an essay, you should have in mind what you want to share with the admissions reader, you want to have almost like an outline of what you're about to write in your head, or actually written out on a piece of paper.

And so as you start writing an essay, make sure that every sentence you write directly impacts what you're trying to say in the first place.

You don't really want to write very superfluous things, right? So in doing so, the way to do that is write line by line. And after you write each sentence, make sure to ask yourself, why did I write the sentence? How's it forwarding my point? Right? So, yeah, so you kind of answer your question. So really, to have sentences that are unique to your purpose of writing, assess each question line by line, as you jealous group motion, what kind of advice would you give to a student wants to write about a family relationship they have, and how it's influenced them. So writing about family, in some sense, could be writing about a family culture, it could be talking about a problem that you have growing up could be about influential figures in your family, like a lot of different things. Going back to some of the main guidelines for writing these essays, you want this essay to be more about you. When typically, I've seen a lot of family relationship type essays, they start to talk more about their family members less about themselves, right? Your goal is to talk more about yourself, and then explain your family members from your own perspective, or explain the influence that they've had, from your own perspective. So to write a really strong relationship about family relationships, I'm sorry, write a really strong essay about failing relationships, really try to make sure you're focusing more on yourself less on kind of your whole family.

And, like I mentioned, there's a whole bunch of different avenues, you can go down in that one line of thought. So definitely try to make sure you have a specific adni that we're going to go down and just stick to that one main theme across your resume.

Nathaniel asks, if you want to talk about your future career in law or medicine that requires you to go to grad school first, but it is your goal, or passion? Is this okay for the common app?

Good question. So I would say no, I mean, it's okay. So if you're applying to certain majors, in hopes that you get into law school or medical school or something like that, this isn't really the place to do that in an essay. Really, what you're trying to do here is just describe yourself from certain character traits through an essay, and you don't really have to talk about your future career goals that can be done really well in other essays, for example, like why major essays right? There, you can really describe what courses you intend to take the score of interest, why you're interested in those courses, and how they play into your future career goals. Typically, on the common app, we don't see that future career goal projection done by students, because students should rather be focusing on really convincing admissions reader. This is why I am this is why i what i can contribute to the university.

Right. Lillian asks, could you write about something like surgery, even if it happened a little before high school? For sure, why not? But I would say that makes sure that if you're going to write about To surgery, it has direct impact on who you are today. Right? Ideally, you know, surgery is kind of, I would say, like a one time, not a one time thing, lifelong effects, I would say. But make sure it has impact on you at least say like one to two years before today. So when talking about it, you can write for more kind of like a current stamp. But yeah, it's a very kind of unique story. And it follows all these guidelines that we talked about today.

Definitely go for it.

Why it is interesting question, I would actually ask clarification for Wyatt. So you said could prompt six be an other world, worldly topic? So prompt six is this.

I see what you're saying. So maybe you're talking about? Can we talk about some things that are out of this world? Like the Milky Way galaxy? Andromeda Galaxy? Mars, maybe? Yeah, I would say so. It'd be pretty captivating to talk about astronomy here. But again, just don't talk about it for the sake of talking about an academic subject.

Talk about it, about why it captivates you.

Why? You're so moved by the idea of astronomy first.

Yeah. But again, if I didn't answer that question correctly, feel free to correct me.

Right? Am I asked? Do you think it would be better to write about an interest I loved as a child, and I've grown in it over time, and have accomplishments stemming from it, or should write an essay about a medical journey I've gone through and grown through. I think they're both great ideas. what's worrying me about the first point is that if you have an interest that you loved as a child, is it still relevant today?

Right? If not, then you might not want to write about it.

But if it is, it still impacts each day and you still have that same interest. Go for it.

I would say both would possibly make strong stories.

Okay, um, another question we have from Kurt. Our traits and characteristics that be kumain are essays shouldn't be explicitly said. It should be inferred by the reader. Correct? Right on, right on, Kurt. That's what we're trying to get out. Right, implicitly express who we are by showing, showing how we interact with the world, showing it through the narrative, rather than directly saying, I'm a curious person. I am a leader. You can show it through your language and your tone. That's what we're trying to go for. So kudos to you.

Felicia asks, in terms of readability, will the admissions officers care about the flesh Kincaid score? flesh Kincaid is probably heard of that before but readability test? No, they're not going to put a metric onto your essay, I just looked it up what it was, no, they're not going to kind of judge your essay quality based on a score derived from some rubric. Rather, you want to make sure that your essay is readable though. Like you don't want to incomplete sentences, you don't want bad grammar? Because that won't be read well, by the admissions readers, especially at selective schools. They're expecting some kind of level of reading advocacy, literacy, and reading these essays. But yeah, they're not going to, again, not going to put it against the rubric to score it.

All right, Abigail asked question, could you read about health question, I'll say allergies, and how it affects the daily doing whatever you can to help the situation, the choices to keep doing what you love, despite the allergies.

Okay, so this kind of goes back to your question before Abigail, about talking? How do we have to talk about things that are like super momentous? Or can they be smaller things that impact us daily, day to day, right? In some ways, again, I don't know like the personal influence of allergies on your life. But maybe allergies might not be as impactful or might not make as strong of a story, or convince admissions readers that this was any adversity at all right. I feel like everyone goes through allergies, but maybe yours are super severe, or not just like seasonal allergies, maybe there's something in life threatening to it. So that life threatening aspect has really influenced your life. That could be something profound to talk about. I will say like season allergies might not be as convincing to admissions reader might not seem super like drastic or anything like that.

So I would definitely kind of just make sure it's like a super profound thing.

Okay, well, we'll take another couple minutes to answer questions. More coming through. Lance us. I've read CommonApp essays with a conclusion that basically says, all these things happen to me and made me more adaptable, etc. for college. He suggests things like this.

Yeah, so usually, conclusions don't matter as much. It's really about the introduction, or the body of the essay, I would say, right? conclusion, conclusions, I really mattered. Those are when I review essays are kind of like the smaller things that I care about. But I would say kind of make sure you address the theme. You kind of wrap up the story as well, as oftentimes, this could be an academic, I wouldn't say it's like the strongest ending, but it also, it's not like a weekend. But there's definitely ways to be more creative. So do I suggest an ending like this? If it happens, I don't really mind it. But I would ask like, Can you make this essay ending more interesting, for example?

Okay, I asked, as I'm using conversational tone throughout my essay, will that address as genuine and emotional? Or will they be more concerned that vocabulary isn't complex? Great point. So oftentimes, for essays you don't need kind of like the most complex vocabulary. Rather, what readers are asking for is complex thoughts, thoughts that are unique to you. thoughts that can only come from you, and thoughts that really show a lot of introspection, right? So vocabulary here doesn't have to be complex. The ideas should be complex in some way. Not to confuse the reader, but to show who you are in a more unique way. If you're doing conversational tone, that's actually kind of helpful, right? You want to put things in your own kind of vernacular.

And it might, it usually comes off as more genuine.

In terms of being emotional. Usually, it's not the tone that you bought. Yeah, this is the tone. But it's also the stuff that you share in the essay. And I guess it is tone and word choice. Yeah, I think you're doing a good job. I think you get the idea. But yeah, so recapping what I said, use conversational tone, it's helpful. But don't make it so conversational, that you're using a lot of slang in your own dialect. If that makes sense, and it's okay not to use like super complex vocabulary. Okay, perfect. I'll take another minute or so to answer more questions. There's a lot coming in, which is awesome. Okay, Kurt asks, Is there a general format, just with a common FSA? Yeah, so we talked about structures a little bit before, I'll go back to that slide.

Um, in terms of format, so if I'll just talk about the narrative essay structure, we're gonna have an introduction, maybe a couple body paragraphs, and then a conclusion. It's nothing really too fancy there? Um, yeah, I wouldn't say it's like a typical, say English project for high school class, I would say you can kind of make it what you want. It doesn't have to be four to five sentences for every paragraph. Some paragraphs can just be one sentence, as long as that sentence is very impactful, or is that way for a purpose, right. So there's no like one general format or suggest, but usually, these structures are what we see most. And within that, feel free to use different paragraph points, or, yeah, but in general, you know, introduction, kind of set the scene, set what you're talking about. body paragraph to kind of introduce your ideas, introduce who you are in the context of whatever's going on. In conclusion, again, like I mentioned before, doesn't really matter as much, but should generally wrap up the theme and idea.

All right, great. Let's wrap up for today.

Really great questions. Overall.

I think you guys were asking really in depth questions. A lot of them I haven't heard before. So really, really good job. Thank you guys for that. Awesome. So hope you guys enjoyed your weekend. Hopefully you guys enjoyed this livestream. I'll see you guys next time. And love you guys game. Alright, take care now.

common app college essay prompts 2020

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Common Application Essay Prompts 2020

May 10, 2020 by Sharon Epstein Leave a comment

common app college essay prompts 2020

For over 15 years, I’ve been teaching students how to write standout college application essays. My students have been admitted to colleges from the University of Michigan to Yale to UTAustin to UCLA. 

The Common Application essay (also known as Common App) is all about finding your best story, writing it well, and using it to show colleges who you are and what matters to you. That’s the basis of a memorable essay and taking direct aim at your dream school. 

So I thought I’d share some of my best tips and answer questions about the Common Application essay and Common App essay prompts for 2020.

In this post I’ll answer these questions:

  • What’s the Common Application Essay?
  • What are the Common App Essay prompts for 2020?
  • What is the Common App essay word limit for 2020?
  • What are colleges looking for in a Common App essay?
  • What is the point of the Common App essay?
  • How important is the Common App essay?
  • Is one Common App prompt better to answer than another?
  • Does my Common App essay need a title?
  • What makes a good Common App essay?

What is the Common Application Essay?

The Common Application essay is the essay required by The Common Application . If you’re not familiar with the Common Application, it’s an application you fill out once and send to all the schools you’re applying to that accept it. Over 800 schools accept the Common App.

Even if you’re writing essays for schools that don’t accept the Common App, all schools are interested in learning about you , and you’ll find a lot of this information helpful.

What are the Common App Essay Prompts for 2020?

The Common App gives you seven prompts to choose from. You answer one of these questions:

  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • 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.
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • 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?
  • 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.

What is the Common App Essay Word Limit for 2020?

The Common App essay limit is 650 words .

What are Colleges Looking For in a Common App Essay?

Colleges look for three main things in a Common App essay:

  • Can you write? – can you organize your thoughts and communicate your ideas?
  • Who are you? – what’s your personality like, what are some of your best qualities, what matters to you and why?
  • Will you contribute positively to our campus community?

What is the Point of the Common App Essay? How Important is the Common App Essay?

The Common App essay is an important part of your application. This is your chance to tell the schools something you’d like them to know about you apart from your test scores and grades. It gives them a chance to meet you on the page.

The Common App essay helps differentiate your application from other students’ applications. No one thinks like you or sees the world the way you do — so tell them.

You can tell schools something they don’t already know or dive deeper into what they already do — like your skills, passions, hobbies, goals, interests, problem-solving ability, positive qualities, and values.

By the end, the essay should say good things about you and help the colleges envision you as a positive addition to their campus communities.

Is One Common App Prompt Better to Answer Than Another?

No. They’re all meant to inspire you to find the story you want to tell. It doesn’t matter which question you choose.

Does My Common App Essay Need a Title?

The Common App essay doesn’t require a title, but it’s okay to include one. (I’d say my students are about 50/50.) Titles count as part of the 650 words

Common Application essay instructions

Sounds interesting, right?

What Makes a Good Common App Essay?

Great question. here are 7 ways to write a strong common app essay:, 1. show off your positive qualities.

Give schools great reasons to accept you. Make a list of your positive qualities and put lots of them into your essay.

If you’re not sure about all your positive qualities, download my

2. Show How You Think

Colleges love to know what’s going on inside your head. They want to see how you make a decision, react to a situation, come to a realization, or think your way through something. Show them your thought process. It’s another way to be unique.

Re flection is essential. Why?

  • Reflection shows you can think critically and analyze. That’s what you’ve got to do in college.
  • Reflection helps your story stand out from other essays. Someone else might have a similar topic, but no one else sees the world exactly the same way as you do.

Tip: When you reflect, always ask yourself why – why did this matter to you… why did you feel the need to do something… why did you make the choices you did? Writing about “why” makes your essay personal and helps you explore your topic in greater depth.

4. Use Details to Paint a Picture

Details bring your essay to life. When you’re writing, think about how something looks, feels, tastes, smells and sounds. Did the fallen leaves crunch under your feet? Could you hear the bacon sizzling in the kitchen? These are called sensory details.

Use sensory details to place the reader directly into your environment and paint a picture of your world.

5. Sound Like You

Write in your own voice. Your essay should sound like a conversation you’re having with an adult. It shouldn’t sound like you’ve memorized the thesaurus or are trying to imitate a professor. And don’t let anyone “correct” it to sound like an English paper. Include strong words, interesting descriptions, and write well, but your college reader knows what teenagers sound like. It’s okay to be yourself.

6 . Be Authentic

When Marc Harding, head of the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid at the University of Pittsburgh, was recently asked what he looked for in an essay, he said, “I’m looking for that authentic student.” Then he added, “ It’s different for every student.”

Here’s the takeaway about being authentic: Doing worry about sounding like other essays you’ve read. Don’t worry about being “perfect.” Write an essay that’s about you and that means something to you.

How do you do that? Reveal something about you — your personality, hopes, pas sions, dreams, craziest moments, biggest failure, a secret you’ve never told anyone….

Take a moment to be a little bit vulnerable.

Think of it like peeling away the layers of an onion –  show the reader what’s happening below the surface, not just on top.

As long as your essay shows off some of your best qualities or values and gives the reader a window into how you think, feel, and what matters to you, then you’ve probably got authentic nailed.

7. Polish and Proofread

Proofreading is must. Make sure your spelling is correct and you’ve got commas and periods in the right places. Don’t rely on Spell Check — If you write Scared Heart University, instead of Sacred Heart University, Spell Check won’t know.

Here’s a great tip: Read your essay out loud. This helps you catch missed words and other errors.

Next Post: I’ll answer more questions and talk about how to start writing your essay.

If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll like my  Facebook page

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Sharon Epstein is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, teaching students around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays . She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Pinterest and Twitter .

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How to Interpret Common App Essay Prompts 2020-2021

If you’re like most students, you’re probably feeling frustrated being cooped up inside during the COVID-19 pandemic and if you’re a junior, you could be anxious about the college admissions process.

Truth be told, applying to college will look very different than it has in the past. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the Common Application essay. The prompts are identical to last year’s, and now that many colleges are doing away with, or weighing less heavily, other components of your application in light of the global crisis, your personal statement will be more important than ever before. The good news is you have plenty of time to start working on them in advance.

Not sure how to get started? Here’s a breakdown of each prompt and advice on how to approach them. Big picture: colleges want to understand not just what you did, but your insight on what you learned about yourself along the way.

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story.

We are all influenced by our background and identity to an extent. And most of us are, even if not the most “talented”, interested in particular subjects or activities. If there is a particularly meaningful aspect(s) of your background or identity— or you have a strong interest that is central to who you are— this is a great prompt to choose.

This prompt explicitly asks you to tell a story which we will see is a feature of almost all good personal essays. Your story doesn’t need to be the most unique anyone’s ever read to be compelling, but it does need to explain “why” what you have chosen to write about is meaningful to you. Essentially, it's a story of personal growth and development. How has it impacted the person you are today and want to become in the future (i.e. your Character Strengths and Values)?

Ideas might include:

  • Experiences interacting with your family or other important people / communities in your life
  • How you became passionate about an activity or hobby
  • Why your ethnicity, religion, gender identity, socioeconomic background, or another facet of you is so important

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?

Everyone deals with challenges and setbacks in life. College admissions committees are interested in how you reacted to the situation i.e. what did it make you think, feel, do and learn. Essentially, what was the impact it had on you (your Character Strengths and Values).

“Recount a time” is, just like prompt 1, asking you to tell a story . This time it explicitly asks for one that shows you can learn and move forward from a challenging experience. If you are someone that has been ultra successful in school and other pursuits, this can be a great prompt for you to show that you have not relied solely on natural talent, but have been successful through perseverance.

There are certain topics that could reflect poorly on you if not treated with care, like breaking the law or hurting someone else, and you should also be careful about spinning an accomplishment as a setback, but otherwise this prompt is quite broad.

  • An entrepreneurial or research project that didn’t go as expected
  • Making a mistake at a job or internship
  • Struggling to get a musical or theatrical performance right

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

Most of us at some point in our lives begin to think critically about what we have been told is true or re-consider what we once thought. This is a good thing (even if upon reflection we confirm our initial position). By asking not just what prompted your thinking, but also what was the outcome— the admissions committee is again inviting you to tell a story. What was the inciting incident, what did you do, and how did it turn out for you?

You don’t have to alter the course of history to effect meaningful change. Perhaps your struggle was purely internal or maybe you influenced just one other person. It’s important to remember that the admissions committee is made up of people of different perspectives and viewpoints, but that doesn’t mean the belief you challenged can’t be controversial. It just means you should focus more on the transformation (development of your Character Strengths and Values) that took place rather than writing an analysis of the subject matter.

Ultimately, you want to make it clear that the life of the mind and ideas are very important to you, so much so that you’re willing to stand up for them, even if it goes against the grain. You also want to show that you’re willing to take into account the views of others, not just dig in your heels. Make sure you make it clear that you showed empathy and a willingness to keep an open mind.

  • Questioning a political position held by your parents
  • Befriending a classmate who wasn’t popular or well-liked by others
  • Challenging a widely accepted idea

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 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.

Similar to the previous prompt, this question asks you to reveal something important about ideas or issues that are important to you. However, this one doesn’t necessarily have to recount how you challenged the status quo per se, but rather how you engaged, are engaging or potentially plan to engage further with a problem that has presented itself to you. You have a lot of wiggle room here. “Explain its significance to you” invites you to tell a personal story about how and why it became significant, what actions you have taken (so far), and what you have learned.

No matter what you choose, be sure you focus on your Character Strengths and Values.

  • How your love of meat forced you to grapple with your beliefs about animal rights
  • A technological challenge you solved
  • A dispute with a friend
  • A global challenge that’s not too far-reaching (you need to express ideas about how to solve it)

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

You see the pattern. An experience you had (often if something is significant it posed a challenge), that caused you to act, reflect, and now articulate what you learned. You are always the star, recounting a story of your own personal growth rather than writing an essay about another subject. A pitfall to avoid with this prompt is coming across as too much of a braggart.

That’s why you need to choose an accomplishment or event that actually helped mold you (your Character Strengths and Values) in a meaningful way. So, as an example you wouldn’t write about the time you won a French award unless it led to a quest for greater understanding of Francophone culture. Instead, you could focus.

  • A significant cultural rite of passage
  • A connection with a parent or relative that was incited by a specific event
  • Being forced to care for younger siblings due to family obstacles

Remember that describing how you grew and changed as a result of this event is essential for writing a successful essay. How are you a different person today as a result of it? How do you interact with people now versus before? How will you continue to grow in the future?

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging 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?

Curiosity and Love of Learning are two of the signature Character Strengths colleges are looking for in your application. This prompt as all previous ones, asks you to explain what you are interested in and why. “What or who do you turn to” is inviting you to tell a story of a specific time or times when you wanted to develop and deepen that interest. If you have a specific resource or someone you consider a mentor, this is a potential topic for you.

Ideas might include :

  • A consistent journaling practice
  •  Independent research or artistic projects
  • A yoga or meditation practice

Colleges are seeking students who are passionate about learning, no matter what their area of interest. This question also serves to demonstrate that you’re a self-starter who can find innovative ways of pursuing your interests, so focus on creative angles and solutions you’ve found for problems.

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.

This is a completely open-ended prompt which gives you almost unlimited freedom. It does not explicitly say it should be about yourself—in some sense everything we write reveals many things about us— but going back to the purpose of the personal statement, it should be clear that it needs to reveal your Character Strengths and Values.

You should not use a literary analysis from an English class, but if you had a creative personal essay assignment in class, they are giving you permission to use it here. Typically however, most students, and we presume this is you since you are in this course, want to explore a new piece of writing and dig deeper than they ever have before.

Maybe you turn out to have a particularly different format, something off-the-beaten-path that indicates something about you and your personality. That can work if you make sure it demonstrates your passion, enthusiasm, and personality. It should be clear why you chose to create your own prompt — you had such a compelling story to share that it didn’t fit into any other mold.

Key Takeaways

What every prompt asks you to do, tell a story, you are the subject of the story which should include 4 major things:.

  •  An experience, challenge or problem that has been significant in your life.
  •  Action. What did you do in response?
  •  Insight. What did you learn?
  •  Application. How have you applied that learning in another area of your life?

Reveal Your Character Strengths

  • Through your actions
  • Through your insight
  • Through the connections you make

Now that you understand the prompts, read the 5 Steps to   ACE your Personal Statement  

Already did that? Learn more about the next Write Your Way Into College cohort.  

Want more information about how we work with students through the entire admissions process?  Get in touch with us

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common app college essay prompts 2020

Greetings Students and Families!

A few short weeks ago , the 2020-21 Common Application officially opened for the 2020-21 college application season.  Are you working on your core essay or already gathering inputs for college-specific college essay prompts?  Unsure where you’ll apply?  Have a pre-paid state tuition plan and unsure about financial aid or scholarship availability at private universities?  Did you know there’s a COVID prompt ? Schedule your comprehensive Educational & College Admissions Planning Assessment with college advisor- Bonnie Rabin, PhD.

common app college essay prompts 2020

Let’s highlight a few changes too hep high school seniors and their families engaged in their college admissions and college essay process.

My goal is to make the college application process manageable, clear and stress-free. If you haven’t read my earlier resources on “Finding the Perfect College ‘Fit’” or “ Yes – You Can Afford College—Understanding Scholarships and College Choice” , please explore.

Bonnie Rabin with student and college acceptances

Let’s take a look at some of the changes in the 2020-21 Common App.

Common App 2019-20

It’s not just rebranding, but the portal is actually one that is continuously improving allowing easier navigation during the college admissions process and providing students with ways to best present their

strengths during the applicaton process.

High School students can also complete their Common App on their smartphones. A comparison of the desktop and mobile look:

Common App 2019-20 Mobile App

New Resources The 2020-21 Common App will include several new resources to assist applicants with navigating the college admissions process.

  • An improved and enhanced college search and school detail pages. These resources help with analyzing college readiness. There’s also access to virtual campus tours – not a replacement to a campus visit, but an important option as social distancing and travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic limit if not preclude on-campus college visits.Ask me more about how to make personal connections with faculty and students from a distance!
  • For families without access to private college counseling or timely access to their guidance counselor, the application guides offer clear step-by-step guidelines for the 2020-21 common application process
  • Non-traditional students including community college students, active and retired military, and returning-to-the-workforce adult students will find an expanded college roadmap that is a valuable initial step when privately available counselors aren’t accessible.

Common App 2019-20

2020-21 Common App Essay Prompts

Despite all the changes, the actual common app core essay prompts are the same.  beware—college-specific supplemental prompts do change  in addition – there’s an optional covid-19 prompt and you may want to review my earlier blog on how to utilize this additional opportunity – or not..

Here are the Common App essay prompts for the upcoming admissions cycle and you’re invited to meet with me to brainstorm your core essay content (strategically highlighting your strengths) and supplemental essays.  Please also consider joining us in-person in Boca Raton, Florida (<<Click to learn more about our services in South Florida) or online at our Sunday Fall Series College Application & College Essay workshop.

  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • 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.
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • 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?
  • 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.

This year, the activities inputs section has been revised- to include an additional input line. Previously, students were limited to a total of 200 characters to detail each extracurricular activity. The additional character limitation is a huge bonus in an already crammed section that is critical to distinguishing yourself within the sea of equally qualified applicants.

Getting started on your common app there’s no prize for being first to submit, but as noted previously, most certainly don’t be last nor after december 1 if you can avoid it.   take care and be thoughtful about every all the required elements of your application..

I advise seniors to aim to complete their safety colleges ASAP- reducing some stress and yes- even parent-student stress.   With these behind you, turn your attention to your other applications – beginning with any Early Decision/Early Action applications.

  • Get Started! Create your Common App account and become comfortable and aware of the elements of each section. The easy inputs can be completed ASAP and have another set of eyes proof read.

boca raton college consultant with client

  • The activities section is another crucial element of your application. While there’s room for 10 – be strategic and be clear – include those activities that capture your intended area of academic interest, activities that bring you joy and those that have shown how you engage with others in community endeavors that are a reflection of issues that matter most to you and the values of importance.  With an improved limit on the number of 250 characters (not words!—characters)—even the most masterful tweeter may be unclear on how to share yours strength in a noticeable manner. Above all, show how you have made an impact.

Seniors should naturally be filled with a bit of angst about the process ahead – but above all, please stay focused on clear manageable goals and avoid unhealthy comparisons/conversations with peers to minimize stress during the college application process.

This is an exciting time for college-bound high school seniors eager to embark on their college admissions journey.  Whether you’re just getting started in high school or a senior engaged in completing your college applications and college essays—please reach out to schedule an Educational and College Admissions Planning Assessment.  I’d be delighted to assist you with any questions or concerns.

Best wishes for an absolutely wonderful school year!

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common app college essay prompts 2020

Bonnie R. Rabin, Ph.D. is the founder and principal educational consultant of College Career Consulting, LLC. She has over 30 years of experience as a university faculty member and shares her knowledge, professional resources and support with students who are ready to advance their lifelong educational and career journeys.

BE INSPIRED! LET ME HELP YOU TAKE THE NEXT STEP in your College Applications & College Essay!

common app college essay prompts 2020

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2023-2024 Common App essay prompts

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We are pleased to announce that the Common App essay prompts will remain the same for 2023-2024.

It’s not just for the sake of consistency that we have chosen to keep the essay prompts the same for the upcoming application year. Our past research has shown that overall satisfaction with the prompts exceeded 95% across our constituent groups - students, counselors, advisors, teachers, and member colleges. Moving forward, we want to learn more about who is choosing certain prompts to see if there are any noteworthy differences among student populations.

We know some schools are beginning to have conversations with juniors and transfer students about their college options. As we’ve always said, this is not a call for students to begin writing. We hope that by sharing the prompts now, students will have the time they need to reflect on their own personal stories and begin thinking about what they want to share with colleges. As you assist students with their planning, feel free to share our Common App Ready resource on approaching the essay (in English and Spanish ). You can also visit our YouTube channel to view our breakdown of all 7 Common App essay prompts . 

"Moving forward, we want to learn more about who is choosing certain prompts to see if there are any noteworthy differences among student populations." Meredith Lombardi, Director, Education and Training, Common App

Students who are ready to start exploring the application can create their Common App account prior to August 1. With account rollover , we will retain any responses to questions on the Common App tab, including the personal essay.

Below is the full set of essay prompts for 2023-2024.

  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • 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?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • 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?
  • 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.

We will retain the optional community disruption question within the Writing section. 

News and updates

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What is FAFSA, and why is it important?

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Taking a closer look at Common App Direct Admissions

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2023 reflections: shooting for the moon together

IMAGES

  1. How to Write the Common App Essay Prompt #1 (2020)

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  2. 2019

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  3. Common App Essay Prompts for the 2020-2021 School Year

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  4. College Applications

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  5. College Essay Academy Lesson 2: The Common App Prompts

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  6. Common App Essay Prompts 2020-2021

    common app college essay prompts 2020

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  1. Do College Essay Prompts Matter? #collegeessays

  2. How to NAIL the UCLA Essay Prompts (pt. 1)

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  1. The Common App 2020-2021 essay prompts

    By Scott Anderson January 29, 2020 Let's not bury the lede: the Common App first-year essay prompts will remain the same for 2020-2021. As part of our commitment to making sure the essay prompts continue to serve students and Common App member colleges well, we invited feedback through a survey.

  2. 2019-2020 Common App essay prompts

    The Common Application has announced that the 2019-2020 essay prompts will remain the same as the 2018-2019 essay prompts. Based on extensive counselor feedback, the existing essay prompts provide great flexibility for applicants to tell their unique stories in their own voice.

  3. How To Answer the 2020-21 Common App Essay Prompts

    The Common App essay prompts for 2020-21 have been released and—spoiler alert—they're exactly the same as last year's! 2020-21 college applicants, like those who came before them, will have seven (that's right, seven) essay prompts to choose from.

  4. First-year essay prompts

    Apply First-year essay prompts Common App has announced the 2023-2024 essay prompts. Below is the complete set of Common App essay prompts for 2023-2024. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it.

  5. Complete Strategies: Common App Essay Prompts (2023-24)

    Pratt Institute University of Idaho If you're applying to more than one or two schools through the Common App, you'll almost certainly need to write a response to the Common App prompts. As such, we recommend sending your essay to schools even if they don't explicitly require it.

  6. 21 Stellar Common App Essay Examples to Inspire Your College Essay

    Prompt #1 Prompt #2 Prompt #3 Prompt #4 Prompt #5 Prompt #6 Prompt #7 Is Your Common App Essay Strong Enough? When you begin writing your Common App essay, having an example to look at can help you understand how to effectively write your college essay so that it stands apart from others.

  7. The 2020-2021 Common Application Essay Prompts Are Here

    Prompt #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. Prompt #2: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success.

  8. 2020-2021 Common App Essay Prompts

    2020-2021 Common App Essay Prompts January 30, 2020 bookmark College Essay Dave Bergman Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant.

  9. The 2020-2021 essay prompts for the Common App for transfer

    March 10, 2020 For the 2020-2021 application year, transfer applicants will have the option to select one of seven current Common App prompts to guide their writing. Members will have full control over whether or not to make this option available to their applicants, and it can be in place of or in addition to any writing you may already require.

  10. The 2021-2022 Common App Essay Prompts Are Here

    What Has Changed? As usual, there are six prompts, with the seventh allowing you to write on a topic of your choice. The prompts are all the same except for Prompt #4. Here's a side-by-side of the old and new versions of the prompt. Before: Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve.

  11. 2020-2021 Common Application Essay Prompts

    The Common Application has released the essay prompts for the 2020-2021 college admissions cycle. Drumroll please. So what will be the prompts for current juniors come the time they apply to college in November and December of 2020? Wonder no more — we know it's been keeping our readers up late into the night.

  12. How To Write The 2020-21 Common App Essay

    46:38. And finally, prompt seven, share an essay on any topic of your choice, it can be one you've already written on the response to a different prompt, or one of your own design. 46:49. First off, you want to write the essay, after figuring out what you want to say, then figure out the prompt.

  13. College Applications: Common App 2020-21 Essays- The COVID and Optional

    Common/Coalition Application Core Essay (650 words) and. College Specific Supplemental Essays (varying in length: 150 to 800 words - as few as one and as many as seven additional prompts) ... 2020-21 COMMON APPLICATION -is the OPTIONAL COVID-19 PROMPT. The 2020-21 college application cycle is likely to look very different.

  14. Common Application Essay Prompts 2020-21

    The Common App Prompts for 2020-21 are Unchanged. The Common Application has announced that the Core College Essay-or Personal Statement prompts for the 2020-21 college admissions season will be the same for the fourth year in a row. College Consultant Bonnie Rabin, PhD - InPerson Boca Raton, FL & Boulder, CO - Anywhere By Skype - Remote ...

  15. Common Application Essay Prompts 2020

    What was the outcome? 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.

  16. How to Write the Common App Essay Prompt #1, 2019-2020

    Welcome to the 2019-2020 college application season. It's here and we're doing a series on the seven Common App personal essay prompts because, a) it can be overwhelming, and b) it can be hard to decipher exactly what "they" want to hear. They, meaning the schools on your school list.

  17. Common App Essay: How to Write a Successful Essay to Get into College

    The Common App essay questions typically change each year. The goal of this essay is to gauge your writing skills. It is also a way to showcase your thoughts, interests, and critical thinking skills. There are many things that make for a great Common App essay. What Are the 2020 to 2021 Common App Essay Prompts?

  18. How to Interpret Common App Essay Prompts 2020-2021

    Prompt 1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story. We are all influenced by our background and identity to an extent. And most of us are, even if not the most "talented", interested in ...

  19. How to Write the Common App Essay Prompt #7, 2019-2020

    Step 2: Get your brain out of the world of 5-paragraph essays. It's kind of insane to us that we're only taught to write one type of essay for literally our entire education. We're going to save you some time: it needs to be thrown in the garbage when it comes time for college admissions essays.

  20. How to Write the Common App Essay Prompt #2, 2019-2020

    Just remember to approach the topic with humility and humor. This is just one example of many different "task failures" that we've helped our students write over the years. Let us know if you have any questions or want us to help workshop yours. Welcome to our overview of the Common App essay prompts for this 2019-2020 application season.

  21. How to Write the Common App Essay Prompt #5, 2019-2020

    Continuing our series on the Common App 2019-2020 prompts, we're reviewing prompt #5. Read on if this prompt intrigues you, annoys you, or you just want to know our thoughts on it. We're very opinionated, if you can't already tell. Particularly when it comes to essays. And the titles of them. And everything in-between.

  22. College Admissions- Common App 2020-21 Essay Prompts & New Information

    The 2020-21 Common App will include several new resources to assist applicants with navigating the college admissions process. An improved and enhanced college search and school detail pages. These resources help with analyzing college readiness. There's also access to virtual campus tours - not a replacement to a campus visit, but an ...

  23. 2023-2024 Common App essay prompts

    By Meredith Lombardi February 24, 2023 We are pleased to announce that the Common App essay prompts will remain the same for 2023-2024. It's not just for the sake of consistency that we have chosen to keep the essay prompts the same for the upcoming application year.