The Common Application has announced the essay prompts for the 2021-22 admissions cycle and for the first time in nearly five years there has been a change. Here, I will explain what the change is and its significance for students applying to college later this year.
The Common Application, or Common App, is the most popular of the different application portals, each year over one million students use it to apply to nearly one thousand colleges. One element of the application is the personal statement essay, a 650 word essay to show the college admissions committee who you are and why you deserve to be admitted to their school.
Rather than just ask students to write an essay about themselves, the Common App provides a number of prompts, currently seven, that students should use to address one or more aspects of their personal story. It is these prompts that the Common Application have announced in the past few days.
The change this year is that the prompt asking students to describe a problem that they have solved, or would like to solve has been removed, as the Common Application say it was seldom used. It has been replaced by a new prompt:
Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
Explaining the thinking behind this new prompt the Common Application said:
‘The new prompt is inspired by scientific research on gratitude and kindness, specifically the benefits of writing about the positive influence of other people in our lives.’
The Common App prompts for 2021-22
Here then is the full list of prompts for the next round of applications:
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. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
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.
We recommend students start working on their Common App essay well before any deadline. In many cases schools will be asking you to share early drafts in the next couple of months, so now is the time to start thinking about it. Rather than jump into the prompts we suggest that you ignore them for the moment, instead try to brainstorm your most compelling stories, one’s that will show admissions teams who you are and what is important to you. Once you have done that you can find the prompt that best fits the story, remembering that the last prompt is an invite for you to write about any topic you like.