There are two core truths when writing a common application essay as it relates to increasing one’s chances of admission: can you write, well? And, did you share any information that will increase the chance of the admission officer wanting to admit you? All else, honestly, is extra, or sometimes, a distraction. They key to planning out a strong essay is to think through pivotal topics in your life ranging from seminal moments of growth to external observations that reflect who you are by association. Most good essays will share essential information so that the admission officer can make a decision to admit or reject you, vs. a 2-dimensional version of your test scores and GPA. Know that this country is filled with many talented students with fascinating experiences, whether provincial and powerful to international and diverse. That initial topic that seems so original is likely to be one of many. While we are all unique, our shared high school experiences and age limit the scope of potential topics, which is where the common application comes in. For 2019-2020, the common application prompts are as follows:
- 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.
Guess which topic was most popular last year? #7, topic of one’s choice. So, while the fact that many essays will be guided by these prompts, students have the flexibility to choose something that suits their interests and passions. Remember, admission officers are selecting students based on two main pathways: major and geography, and the two readers who typically review any given student’s application will have that lens when considering who you are, what you have done, and what you are writing. So, instead of trying to be unique or clever, write from the heart, within your personality, and start early. Most students wait too long to start, and then wrangle it across the finish line while stressing about supplemental essays which, to be honest, often cause more delays when submitting applications than any other application element! Spread out the work, identify your narrative, outline, and then write. Each paragraph should add a new dimension to who you are, what you have done, and what you plan to do, whether literally or metaphorically. The key is remembering that everyone is unique, so the more your essay reflects who you are as a student, the more likely it will stand out as it should.