Common Essay Application—Prompts and Examples
  • 4-minute read
  • 19th October 2022

Common Essay Application—Prompts and Examples

Your test scores and extracurricular activities are important for your college application, but those don’t really show the admissions panel who you are; that is what the college admission essay is for. To make sure that your personality shines through, your choice of essay prompt will be vital. We can help proofread it once you’ve written it, but first let’s look at your choices for this year’s Common Application.

Prompt 1: Share Your Story

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.

With this, you should engage the reader with your enthusiasm for a particular activity—however mundane it may at first appear—or allow them to connect with a background or identity that may be different from their own. Click to read an example answer to this question.

Prompt 2: Challenges and Obstacles

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?

The transition to college can be daunting. An essay on this topic will help the admissions officer see your resilience and ability to learn from your own mistakes. Click to read an example answer to prompt 2. 

Prompt 3: Challenging Beliefs 

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

With this you can demonstrate your reflective skills: how you can weigh up opposing arguments, decide what is important to you, and compellingly justify your response. Click to read an example.

Prompt 4: Gratitude 

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?

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The requirement here is specifically for the cause to have been surprising, and therefore the officer will be looking for something unexpected but authentically joyful for you, so must be fully engaged by your description. Here’s an example!

Prompt 5: Personal Growth  

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

The rest of your application sets out the facts of your accomplishments, so this is a chance for the officer to understand the deeper impact on you of those or of other achievements or events. Here’s an example.

Prompt 6: What Captivates You?

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?

The officer will want to be swept away by your passion for a subject. They will want to have their senses engaged in the same way that yours are, and fully understand how time may be lost to the activity or concept. Check out the example.

Prompt 7: Open-Ended Prompt

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.

Responding to such an open-ended prompt has the potential to demonstrate your innovative skills—perhaps using a different format—or a passion that doesn’t naturally fit within any of the other prompts. Although the topic is down to you, it must still be personal; the one thing the admissions officer wants to learn about from your essay is you. Here’s a fun award-winning example

Once you’ve chosen your prompt and written your essay, don’t forget to get it proofread. You’ll have put a lot of time and energy into writing it and will want it to give the best impression. Upload a trial document today to see how we can help.

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