Common Application Essay Prompts and Strategies for 2016-17

common application essay

Stand Out in Your
Common Application Essay

 

So you are ready to start writing your Common Application Essay?

Congratulations! You have found the best source of specific tips and strategies on exactly how to brainstorm topics for each of the 5 prompts–and learn to craft a powerful college application essay using a narrative (story-telling) style.

Start by reading through the 5 prompts, which I shared below.

(The folks from the Common Application just officially announced their essay writing prompts for this coming college admissions season of 2016-17, and it’s anticlimactic news, but they will be the same as last year. The idea is you know the prompts well before they start accepting applications in August, so you can get a head start on your essays.)

You just need to write a personal statement essay that addresses one of these prompts. The prompts are mainly to inspire you to write a personal essay about yourself that helps you stand out from the crowd. (more…)

Pulling Your Hair Out Over The Common App? Here’s Some Relief

 

Students trying to submit their college applications–including their essays–to The Common Application are finding all sorts of glitches and problems this fall. Apparently, it’s a new system and some students have spent literally hours trying to make it work–and often without any luck. Some colleges have had to extend their deadlines.

The good news is that my friend, Lynn O’Shaughnessy, a renowned college expert from San Diego, has written a list of tips you can follow to try to avoid the nightmare–or at least find ways to deal with it. I love Lynn because she’s also a professional journalist who knows how to get the best inside scoop and communicate it well. (If you are trying to figure out how you are going to pay for your education, you should check out her web site, blog, books, workshops, and everything she offers that you can get your hands on!) (more…)

Hot Strategies for All Five of the New Common Application Prompts

College Application Essays

Which Prompt Will You Pick?

 

UPDATE: Most of this information is still helpful and relevant. However, please see the changes in the NEW Common Application Prompts for 2015-16

If you are ready to brainstorm ideas for your Common Application essays, here’s a great place to start. I’ve written posts on each of the 5 new prompts–including how to focus your answer, to find unique angles and twists,  to structure your essay, to tell a story with an anecdote, and topics to avoid, on and on.

Here are the new prompts for the 2013 Common Application essays
(click each prompt to find my post on how to respond to it!):

 

  1. Some students have a background or story or interest or talent that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  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 or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Check out my posts on how to answer the two prompts for the University of California essays.

If you find these helpful, but still need more help in the actual writing of your narrative-style essay, consider buying a copy of my new book: Escape Essay Hell! You can order off my blog here or it’s now also available on Amazon via Kindle. luck!

Should You Take the Challenge of Prompt 3 of New Common App?

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College Application Essays: How to Answer Prompt 3 of the Common App.

Who or What Have You Confronted Lately?

 

When you read the five options for your Common Application essay, one prompt probably will appeal to you first off. Others you will skim and choose to ignore.

This is how I felt about the third prompt–“Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?”

It just didn’t inspire any topic ideas for me, and I assumed it was less likely than the others to work for you, too. 

But when I gave this question a little more thought, I realized that I challenged a belief while I was in my teens. And it was a very big deal.

I was raised in a religion that is considered relatively radical and unusual, and when I started to think for myself (sometime around junior high) I decided it wasn’t for me.

I was not popular with my parents, some of my friends or my parochial school at the time, and it was hard sticking to my guns. Although rejecting my religion was challenging, painful and lonely, the process truly defined who I was and what I believed. It would have made an excellent essay topic.

So there. I have to eat my negative words about that third essay question.

I wonder what other possible topics could be for that question, besides challenging a religion that has been imposed upon you.

How about a gender belief? Or racial or cultural one? Could you stretch the meaning of a “belief or idea” into an assumption, opinion or prejudice? I think so, especially if you indicate that you have done that in your essay.

I also think if you try to think of a time someone or something first challenged you on a certain “belief or idea,” and then you challenged back, you might find more real-life examples to write about.

For instance, someone tried to hold you back just because you were a girl, and what you did about that (the belief you challenged: girls are inferior to guys).

Or someone kept you out of an activity or group just because of your race or heritage, and what you did about that. I’m imaging some type of confrontation or speaking up or fighting back (peacefully, of course).

I like that the prompt asks you pointedly to also include “what prompted you to act,” so you include some action in your essay.

It’s always a good thing when something actually happens in these college application essays.

The last question in this prompt, “Would you make the same decision again,” is meant to encourage you to look back and reflect, analyze and evaluate that decision to challenge the belief or idea.

A Sample Outline for Prompt 3

If you want to answer this prompt, here’s one way you could structure your essay to engage the reader with your challenging action, and go on to explain why you did it:

1. Start with an anecdote that describes a moment or “time” when you challenged the belief or idea you are writing about. This could simply be the conversation where you confronted someone about it, or some action you took to protest or react to that belief or idea.

2. After a paragraph or two where you described an example of a specific “time” you challenged the belief or idea (or assumption, stereotype, opinion, prejudice, etc.), then go back and give us the back story about this time. What led up to it?

3. Then start to explain how that incident made you feel, what made you decide you didn’t accept it, “what prompted you to act,” how you responded to it, and what you learned in the process. And of course, would you do it again?

The most important part of writing about this prompt, I believe, is to bring some action to your essay. It could be dull and long-winded if you only talk about your beliefs or ideas. Focus on a specific example where something happened and your essay is sure to be compelling.

The larger lesson here, at least that I’ve learned, in reviewing the five options for writing your college admissions essays for these new Common Application prompts is to  try your best to think about and brainstorm ideas for each one. Even if one jumps out at you, give the others a chance. I think I could have written a great essay if I had thought more about my own time I challenged a belief or idea! 

If are you ready to tell your story, check out my Jumpstart Guide and posts about how to find a great topictell a story and write an anecdote.

My new ebook, Escape Essay Hell!, offers more complete steps and advice on how to write these types of “narrative,” or storytelling, essays, if you want more help:

 

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