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The Common Application Announces 2016-2017 Essay Prompts

The Common Application has announced that the 2016-2017 personal statement essay prompts will be the same as the 2015-2016 prompts. By conducting a review process every other year, rather than annually, we can hear from admissions officers, as well as students, parents, and counselors, about the effectiveness of the essay prompts.

These prompts are designed to elicit information that will strengthen the other components of the application. “We want to make sure that every applicant can find a home within the essay prompts, and that they can use the prompts as a starting point to write an essay that is authentic and distinguishing,” said Scott Anderson, former school counselor and current Senior Director for Programs and Partnerships for The Common Application.

Among the more than 800,000 unique applicants who have submitted a Common App so far during the 2015-2016 application cycle, 47 percent have chosen to write about their background, identity, interest, or talent – making it the most frequently selected prompt; 22 percent have chosen to write about an accomplishment, 17 percent about a lesson or failure, 10 percent about a problem solved, and four percent about an idea challenged.

With the release of the essay prompts and the announcement that student accounts created now will roll over to 2016-2017, counselors can introduce their juniors to the Common App now, or whenever they are ready.

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 failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

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.

What’s (app) ening?

The Common Application Announces 2017-2018 Essay Prompts

We are pleased to share the 2017-2018 Common Application essay prompts with you. The changes you see below reflect the feedback of 108 Common App member colleges and more than 5,000 other Common App constituents, as well as consultation with our advisory committees and Board of Directors. Students represented the single largest share of constituent survey respondents (59%), followed by school counselors (23%), and teachers (11%).

We were gratified to learn that 91% of members and 90% of constituents agree or strongly agree that the current prompts are effective. In addition, the narrative comments we received helped us see areas for improvement in three of the prompts. Working in close consultation with the counselors and admission officers on our advisory committees, we revised these prompts in a way that we believe will help students see expanded opportunities for expressing themselves. Those revisions appear in italics. You will also notice two new prompts. The first asks students to share examples of their intellectual curiosity. The second is a return to inviting students to submit an essay on a topic of their choice, reframed to help students understand that they are welcome to draw inspiration from multiple sources, not just their own creativity.

The word limit on the essay will remain at 650.

The goal of these revisions is to help all applicants, regardless of background or access to counseling, see themselves and their stories within the prompts. They are designed to invite unencumbered discussions of character and community, identity, and aspiration. To this end, we will be creating new educational resources to help students both understand and approach the opportunities the essay presents for them.

2017-2018 Common Application Essay Prompts

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. [New]

Writing The Common Application Essay

The Common Application http://www.commonapp.org launched online for the coming admissions season on August 1st. The Common Application essay prompts are now available so writing can begin. Students will need to choose one of the five prompts and write up to a 650 word essay. Writing the Common Application essay is a crucial part of the college process in that many of the colleges where students apply will see this essay.

The essay prompts are as follows:.

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 failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

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.

Writing the Common Application essay will bring authenticity to your application and allow the admission officers to learn who you are. You need to make sure this happens. So just how should you start writing your Common Application essay?

Here are some suggestions we recommend to help you in writing your Common Application essay where you can stand out:

– Brainstorm possible topics – this could be absolutely anything – Slice of life stories can be very appealing and just as noteworthy if the writing is exceptional. It’s not necessary to write about some major event or achievement. Keep a file of life stories, specific moments and experiences. Think about how you have applied lessons you have learned. Read current college essay prompts and see if your ideas integrate.

– Discuss your ideas with people you know. Listen to suggestions and elaborate on your thoughts. What do others think of your topics? Which ideas are discriminating and distinguish you as a strong applicant at your dream college?

– Don’t rush – pace yourself well so that you have plenty of time to relax and write

– Find a comfortable setting where your thoughts and ideas can flourish. Really like what you write about and mean it.

– Once you have completed your “Free Write” go back and look at the specific essay prompts. The Common App Prompts can each inspire deep thoughts – Select the one where you feel most sincere and authentic. Remember that your writing is quality over quantity so no need to write many rough drafts. Connect your topic ideas to the prompts and write a brief outline defining the paragraphs of your essay. This is where you may start to think about your opening “the grabber” and how to sustain interest. Keep track of the required word count.

– Once you have your topic ideas and your general outline, you can begin writing out your rough draft.

Having reviewed countless Common Application essays, below are some things we see and things you should avoid.

– Writing that does not emphasize the writer’s strength of character

– Essays that make every effort to portray the writer as “perfect” and just try too hard.

– Essays that don’t reflect the writer’s passion, curiosity and inspirations.

– Contrived transitions that don’t connect

– Narratives that do not engage the reader

– Repeating what is on the activity resume

– Dull openings that quickly lose interest

– Using quotes that don’t connect or add anything to the essay

– Essays that don’t realize the intent of the prompt and don’t answer all the questions asked

– Essays that look too much like everyone else’s. Common topics like community service in a foreign country, overcoming an obstacle and winning, a relationship with a close relative where the relative is the emphasis of the essay, winning a sporting event must remain unique with a well-told story.

– Writing what you think admission officers want to read and therefore not your true self – using a thesaurus to impress

– Too much written in the passive voice.

– Not keeping language specific – writing too generally about too many things

– Use of slang or relaxed language

It is best to begin as soon as possible in order to present your best self and give your writing the time, thought and diligence it deserves!

College Connections, LLC provides exceptional college essay guidance!

Writing the Common Application Essay and What to Avoid

The Common Application will launch for the coming admissions season on August 1. In the meanwhile, the Common Application essay prompts are available so writing can begin. Students will need to choose one of the five prompts and write up to a 650-word essay.

The essay prompts are as follows:

1. 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.

2.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 place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

5.Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Your essays will bring authenticity to your application and allow the admission officers to learn who you are. You need to make sure this happens. So just how should you start writing your essays?

Here are some suggestions we recommend to help you write essays where you can stand out:

1. Brainstorm possible topics: This could be absolutely anything — Slice of life stories can be very appealing and just as noteworthy if the writing is exceptional. It’s not necessary to write about some major event or achievement. Keep a file of life stories, specific moments and experiences. Think about how you have applied lessons you have learned. Read current college essay prompts and see if your ideas integrate.

2. Discuss your ideas with people you know: Listen to suggestions and elaborate on your thoughts. What do others think of your topics? Which ideas are discriminating and distinguish you as a strong applicant at your dream college?

3. Don’t rush: Pace yourself well so that you have plenty of time to relax and write

4. Find a comfortable setting: Where your thoughts and ideas can flourish. Really like what you write about and mean it.

Once you have completed your “Free Write” go back and look at the specific essay prompts. The Common App Prompts can each inspire deep thoughts — Select the one where you feel most sincere and authentic. Remember that your writing is quality over quantity so no need to write many rough drafts. Connect your topic ideas to the prompts and write a brief outline defining the paragraphs of your essay. This is where you may start to think about your opening “the grabber” and how to sustain interest. Keep track of the required word count.

Once you have your topic ideas and your general outline, you can begin writing out your rough draft.

Having reviewed countless Common App essays, below are some things we see and things you should try and avoid:

– Writing that does not emphasize the writer’s strength of character

– Essays that make every effort to portray the writer as “perfect” and just try too hard

– Essays that don’t reflect the writer’s passion, curiosity and inspirations

– Contrived transitions that don’t connect

– Narratives that do not engage the reader

– Repeating what is on the activity resume

– Dull openings that quickly lose interest

– Using quotes that don’t connect or add anything to the essay

– Essays that don’t realize the intent of the prompt and don’t answer all the questions asked

– Essays that look too much like everyone else’s. Common topics like community service in a foreign country, overcoming an obstacle and winning, a relationship with a close relative where the relative is the emphasis of the essay, winning a sporting event must remain unique with a well-told story

– Writing what you think admission officers want to read and therefore not your true self – using a thesaurus to impress

– Too much written in the passive voice

– Not keeping language specific — writing too generally about too many things

– Use of slang or relaxed language

It is best to begin as soon as possible in order to present your best self and give your writing the time, thought and diligence it deserves!

Top 6 Common Application Essay Tips

Parents and students often ask us for our most valuable Common Application essay tips, so our savvy team of advisors complied a list of simple, effective tricks to use as guidelines while you navigate the tricky waters of college essay writing. Try to use them for good and not for evil.

1. Think small: When writing the Common Application essay, too many students feel compelled to try and squeeze their entire life story into 650 words. This, friends, is impossible. It is almost always better to think small first. Find a story or event in your life that really meant something to you. Did you win a competition at the last second? Was your family stranded on vacation with no power for five days? Have you read something recently that blew your mind? Now ask yourself- are any of these stories representative of my larger, most valuable qualities? The perfect essay topic showcases your personality, passions and/or ambitions without trying to do too much at once. Talking about your family’s adoption of a three-legged dog and how your pet’s perseverance and quirky attitude influenced the way you live your life, will make a better essay than a super general diatribe on why you like dogs, for example. If you find yourself getting lost while writing, ask: what am I trying to say about myself, and am I using a specific, compelling example to tell my story?

2. Write first, edit later: When it comes to writing, we are almost always our own worst critics. So many students want and expect themselves to produce pure, uninhibited brilliance the first time their fingers hit the keys, but that is almost never the way good essay writing works. Writing a compelling essay is a process, and the best writing can often be plucked from our stream-of-consciousness efforts. Don’t edit yourself before you allow your creativity to warm up and pour onto the page. Never judge your writing until you have a few paragraphs written down first. You can always cut what doesn’t work and it is much easier to work with an overabundance of words and ideas than nothing at all.

3. Kill those clichés: We’re not going to beat around the bush here: clichés really get our goats. When you take that trip down memory lane, telling us about the time you were a mover and a shaker putting your nose to the grindstone it makes our blood boil. We’re content and grammar snobs, so we find clichés to be extra unappealing, but we also have enough confidence in your creativity to know that you can do better. Admissions essay readers know it too, and expect you to think out of the box without using phrases like “think out of the box.” So strike those tired sentences from your essay and do it now. Never put off tomorrow what you can do today. It actually hurt us to write that.

4. It’s all in the details: What is the difference between these two sentences? 1. My favorite activities included fishing and cooking my daily catch. 2. My friends and I woke up early every morning to catch bass on Lake Michigan, cooking our spoils with herbs picked from a local farm. In the first sentence, we understand that you enjoyed certain activities. In the second, yes, we know you like fishing but we also understand your commitment to an activity you engaged in every day and recognize that your fishing trips are a social effort. There is a sense of time and place- we can see the setting, smell the herbs. With a few extra words, sentence two tells us much more about your fishing experience. Many students have a tendency to skew generic in the telling of their personal stories. What makes an essay memorable is often the sum of the little things. If you can paint a clear picture for your reader by providing details, you are much more likely to lodge a marker in their memories.

5. If Nothing Else, Entertain: Imagine you’re a college essay reader at an upstanding academic institution and it is your job to read dozens of essays a day, every day, for weeks on end. Ninety percent of the essays that pass your desk are stone-cold boring, and maybe ten percent break through the fuzz and force you to pay attention. As an applicant, you want your essay to shine a bright light in the face of that oft-bored reader. No matter what your subject, serious, uplifting, sentimental or pithy, your essay should aim to entertain. This will require many elements working together in harmony. You will need a compelling subject, a direct and powerful narrative, impeccable grammar and a memorable style. A little laughter never hurts either. It is often hard to know whether an essay is truly entertaining until the end stages of writing, but when you are reading over your drafts, the question should always be in the back of your mind: Is this essay fun to read? Some students achieve entertainment value by being controversial. Others load their pieces with comic relief. Some are able to describe events in such detail that a reader simply must get to the end of the essay. No matter what tactics you end up using, your goal should be effortless and compelling readability.

6. Brand yourself: In order for your essay to be truly effective, a reader should be able to summarize your subject in a simple sentence. You accomplish this self-branding by choosing a creative topic (or a creative twist on a common topic), and writing about it with enough detail to burn an image of yourself in the reader’s brain. When it comes down to you and another similarly qualified candidate, you want an admissions officer to be able to stand up with your application in his/her hand and say, “I like the girl who performed trapeze in the circus,” or “How about the girl who saved her grandfather’s life?” It will be much harder to remember “the girl who practiced the trapeze, and was also good at riding bikes, and who got an A on every test and who generally worked very hard,” or “the girl who really loved her late grandfather and who feels like she embodies a lot of his core characteristics.” Focus your story. When you finish writing your first draft, do a branding test- try to label yourself based on your essay and see what you come up with. If you can’t easily narrow it down to a punchy description, you probably need to alter or simplify your essay.

Written by CEA HQ

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Popular College Application Essay Topics (and How to Answer Them)

Get help writing your college application essays. Find this year’s Common App writing prompts and popular essay questions used by individual colleges.

The college essay is your opportunity to show admissions officers who you are apart from your grades and test scores (and to distinguish yourself from the rest of a very talented applicant pool).

2018-19 Common App Essays

Nearly 700 colleges accept the The Common Application, which makes it easy to apply to multiple schools with just one form. If you are using the Common App to apply for college admission in 2017, you will have 250–650 words to respond to ONE of the following prompts:

  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.

Tackling the Common App Essay Prompts

Prompt #1: Share your story.

Answer this prompt by reflecting on a hobby, facet of your personality, or experience that is genuinely meaningful and unique to you. Admissions officers want to feel connected to you and an honest, personal statement about who you are draws them in. Your love of superheroes, baking chops, or family history are all fair game if you can tie it back to who you are or what you believe in. Avoid a rehash of the accomplishments on your high school resume and choose something that the admissions committee will not discover when reading the rest of your application.

Prompt #2: Learning from obstacles.

You’re trying to show colleges your best self, so it might seem counterintuitive to willingly acknowledge a time you struggled. But overcoming challenges demonstrates courage, grit, and perseverance! That’s why the last piece of this prompt is essential. The obstacle you write about can be large or small, but you must show the admissions committee how your perspective changed as a result.

Prompt #3: Challenging a belief.

Your answer to this question could focus on a time you stood up to others or an experience when your own preconceived view was challenged. Choose this prompt if you have a relevant—and specific!—experience to recount (and reflect on). A vague essay about a hot button issue doesn’t tell the admissions committee anything useful about YOU.

Prompt #4: Solving a problem.

This essay is designed to get at the heart of how you think and what makes you tick. Present a situation or quandary and show steps toward the solution. Admissions officers want insight into your thought process and the issues you grapple with, so explain how you became aware of the dilemma and how you tackled solving it. Don’t forget to explain why the problem is important to you!

Prompt #5: Personal growth.

Just like Prompt #2, the accomplishment or event you write about can be anything from a major milestone to a smaller “aha” moment. Describe the event or ccomplishment that shaped you but take care to also show what you learned or how you changed. Colleges are looking for a sense of maturity and introspection—pinpoint the transformation and demonstrate your personal growth.

Prompt #6: What captivates you?

This prompt is an invitation to write about something you care about. (So avoid the pitfall of writing about what you think will impress the admission office versus what truly matters to you). Colleges are looking for curious students, who are thoughtful about the world around them. The “what or who do you turn to when you want to learn more” bit isn’t an afterthought—it’s a key piece of the prompt. Make sure you explain how you pursue your interest, as well.

Prompt #7: Topic of your choice.

This question might be for you if you have a dynamo personal essay from English class to share or were really inspired by a question from another college’s application. You can even write your own question! Whatever topic you land on, the essentials of a standout college essay still stand: 1.) Show the admissions committee who you are beyond grades and test scores and 2.) Dig into your topic by asking yourself how and why. There isn’t a prompt to guide you, so you must ask yourself the questions that will get at the heart of the story you want to tell.

More College Essay Topics

Individual schools sometimes require supplemental essays. Here are a few popular application essay topics and some tips for how to approach them:

Describe a person you admire.

Avoid the urge to pen an ode to a beloved figure like Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln. The admissions committee doesn’t need to be convinced they are influential people. Focus on yourself: Choose someone who has actually caused you to change your behavior or your worldview, and write about how this person influenced you .

Why do you want to attend this school?

Be honest and specific when you respond to this question. Avoid generalities like “to get a good liberal arts education” or “to develop career skills,” and use details that show your interests: “I’m an aspiring doctor and your science department has a terrific reputation.” Colleges are more likely to admit students who can articulate specific reasons why the school is a good fit for them beyond its reputation or ranking on any list. Use the college’s website and literature to do your research about programs, professors, and other opportunities that appeal to you.

What is a book you love?

Your answer should not be a book report. Don’t just summarize the plot; detail why you enjoyed this particular text and what it meant to you. What does your favorite book reveal about you? How do you identify with it, and how has it become personal to you?

Again, be honest in answering this question—don’t choose a classic from your literature class or a piece of philosophy just because you think it will make you seem smarter. Writing fluently and passionately about a book close to you is always better than writing shakily or generally about a book that doesn’t inspire you.

What is an extracurricular activity that has been meaningful to you?

Avoid slipping into clichés or generalities. Take this opportunity to really examine an experience that taught you something you didn’t previously know about yourself, got you out of your comfort zone, or forced you to grow. Sometimes it’s better to write about something that was hard for you because you learned something than it is to write about something that was easy for you because you think it sounds admirable. As with all essay questions, the most important thing is to tell a great story: how you discovered this activity, what drew you to it, and what it’s shown you about yourself.

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