We are big proponents of starting early—ideally in June. You may not be thrilled at the prospect of spending the summer before your senior year on college applications. But getting going in June after your junior year and committing to a few exercises over the summer will be like spring training for summer athletes. Bonus: starting early will also give you time to hand a strong draft of your essay to the teachers from whom you plan to request letters of recommendation for college.
This is crucial because your application is a chance to offer not only the facts about you but also a narrative of you—a sense of who you are, how you move through the world, and what you hope to become.
Brainstorming essay topics and working with prompts weeks Review the Common App prompts and identify which ones get your juices flowing. You can also use our expanded prompts to help you brainstorm and freewrite over the summer. Prompt 7. Make a list of themes and broad topics that matter to you. What do you, your friends, and family spend a lot of time thinking about or talking about?
Note: this is not the same as asking for your list of extracurricular activities. Tell the story of an important day or event in relation to one of these topics. Think of a specific time they helped you with something.
Tell the story. Think of any person—family, friend, teacher, etc—who has been important to you. When did you first meet them? When did you have a crucial, meaningful, or important conversation with them? Make a list of experiences that have been important to you. These do not have to be dramatic, tragic, traumatic, or prove that you changed the world, though they can be any of those. Perhaps a particular summer that mattered a lot?
Or an experience with friend or family member who shaped you—it could be a specific day spent with them, or a weekend, a summer, a year? Remember: Specific anecdotes are your friend when drafting your Common App personal statement.
Try to think of a story you often tell people that shows something about you. Prompt 1. Where did you grow up? Describe your neighborhood, town, or community. Big or small? What makes it unlike other parts of the world? How has it affected you?
For instance, is there farmland all around you, grain silos, cows? A Chick-Fil-A every block? Where is home for your parents? Does their home impact your day-to-day life?
Raising the limit on the number of words allowed is also perceived by students to be helpful and allows them to express themselves more easily and completely. If your essay includes family members or friends, make sure the focus stays on you. The grocery store holds a special place in my heart: it is the catalyst for my success. So when the opportunity to attend the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science presented itself, I took it and ran, as did my parents by leaving Vietnam and by buying the store.
Although the opportunities that my parents and I pursued are different, our journey is essentially the same: we walk a road paved with uncertainty and doubt with the prospect of success fortified by our hearts and our hands.
However, reflecting on how your culture has shaped your experiences can make for a compelling essay. Alternatively, focusing on a dominant personality trait can also make for a compelling theme. One important thing to note: the topic of identity can easily lack originality if you cover a common experience such as feeling divided between cultures, or coming out. If such experiences are integral to who you are, you should still write about them, but be sure to show us your unique introspection and reflection.
One of our consultants detailed how growing up as an American in Germany led to feelings of displacement. Moving to America in high school only exacerbated her feelings of rootlessness.
After moving from Berlin to New York at age fifteen, my feelings of cultural homelessness thrived in my new environment. Americans confused me as I relied on Urban Dictionary to understand my peers, the Pledge of Allegiance seemed nationalistic, and the only thing familiar about Fahrenheit was the German after whom it was named.
In between games and snacks, Laya would ask me questions about American life, touching on everything from Halloween to President Obama. Gradually, my confidence in my American identity grew as I recognized my ability to answer most of her questions. Together, we worked through conflicting allegiances, homesickness, and stretched belonging. Forging a special, personal bond with young refugees proved a cathartic outlet for my insecurities as it taught me to value my past.
My transculturalism allowed me to help young refugees integrate into American life, and, in doing so, I was able to adjust myself. For instance, you might consider cross country an activity, but cooking an interest. Writing about an interest is a way to highlight passions that may not come across in the rest of your application.
You should also feel free to use this topic to show what an important activity on your application really means to you. 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? This prompt lends itself to consideration of what facets of your personality allow you to overcome adversity. There are times in life when your foundation is uprooted. For example, if you lost a friend due to an argument, you can analyze the positions from both sides, evaluate your decisions, and identify why you were wrong.
The key is explaining your thought process and growth following the event to highlight how your thinking has changed. Did you ever admit your fault and seek to fix the problem? Have you treated others differently since then? How has the setback changed the way you view arguments and fights now? Framing the prompt in this way allows you to tackle heavier questions about ethics and demonstrate your self-awareness. History of the Common Application Length Limit For years the Common Application had no length limit, and applicants and counselors frequently debated whether a tight word essay was a wiser approach than a detailed word piece.
In , that decision was taken away as the Common Application moved to a relatively short word limit. With the August release of CA4 the newest version of the Common Application , the guidelines changed once again.
CA4 set the limit at words and a minimum of words. And unlike earlier versions of the Common Application, the length limit is now enforced by the application form.
No longer can applicants attach an essay that goes over the limit. 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?
Raising the limit on the number of words allowed is also perceived by students to be helpful and allows them to express themselves more easily and completely.
Admissions committees have no preference for which prompt you choose. It brings to life the student—you! Prompt 2 The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success.
The next business day, however, sales increased ten-fold. Prompt 6. What prompted your thinking?
Best of luck from the CollegeVine team! Tell the story of the most meaningful time you did this thing—it might be, say, when you won a game, but it also might be when you lost a game, or when you quit the team. Regardless of your topic, this prompt provides a great opportunity to display writing prowess through elegant, specific descriptions that leverage sensory details. Finally, keep in mind that what you say and how you say it is far more important than whether you have words or words. What do you bring with you? Prompt 2.
Prompt 2 The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. In the case of surfing, the salty water, weightlessness of bobbing over the waves, and fresh air could cater to senses.
But, these new questions are no joke; none of the essay prompts are easy, and all require a great deal of time, thought, and drafting before members of the Class of can confidently hit submit on their applications. It's roughly the equivalent of a two-page, double-spaced essay. What prompted your thinking? If you've said all you have to say in words, don't try to pad your essay to make it longer.
Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure.
Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. What was the outcome? For example, if you used to stutter or get nervous in large social groups, you could discuss the steps you took to find a solution. For the application cycle, the length limit for the essay is words. He told me how challenging school had always been for him, due to his dyslexia, and that the ever-present comparison to me had only deepened his pain.