New Essay Questions on the Common App

College Essays Need to Percolate
Students applying to colleges this fall will see new questions, and a new word limit on the Common Application. Accepted at close to 500 colleges, the Common App offers students a standardized method to apply to schools on their target list.

The Common App Board of Directors relied upon their Outreach Advisory Committee, a group of 15 counselors, to advise them on the new essays. The Board has committed to taking a fresh look at topics each year and will accept input from its members as to the effectiveness of the prompts.

One big change is the word count. Students can now use up to 650 words to answer the prompt- up from the 500 words previously allowed.

One controversial change is the elimination of the “topic of your choice” essay . Applicants must now choose one of five given prompts to answer the question, “What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores?”

The five prompts are:

  • Some students have a background or story 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.
  • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
I like to tell students that they need to give their essay responses “time to percolate”. The summer between junior and senior year of high school is a great time to work on essays. Share the new prompts with students so they have an opportunity to consider which prompt best explains who they are to college admissions essay readers.

Proper percolation precludes procrastination. Say that five times fast!