Attention Juniors: The 2015-2016 college application season has officially begun. The Common Application, otherwise known as the Common App, released its list of essay prompts. While it is true that the Common Application essay prompts are flexible enough for any personal statement or story, it also helps to know just what admissions officers look for when they read them.
The application doesn’t go live until August, but this is important enough that you should start thinking of an answer now. Keep in mind, students only have to choose and respond to one of the five choices.
Overall, admissions offices are looking for you to reveal something that distinguishes you or sets you apart from others in your own voice.
PROMPT #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.
This first question is broad and gives you a lot of latitude. The prompt asks you to write about either a passion or something that defines you as a person. This common app essay should be built around something unique and specific to you and no one else. If your “background” is central to your identity, it could involve anything in your life that shaped you. This can include your religion or ethnicity, living in a foreign country, experiencing a challenging issue growing up, or a unique family situation. Make sure you describe how your background affected who you are, what you value, and how you approach your life. Same with your “identity,” it’s important to choose a topic that has shaped who you are on a fundamental basis. If you choose to write about an “interest” or “talent,” (i.e. sports, the arts, speech and debate, stamp collecting, bird watching, performing magic tricks, etc.), make sure you include your reflection on how it shaped you. It’s critical that you find a way to write about it that reveals more about you than what you like to do or how good you are at doing it.
PROMPT #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?
While the prompt asks about failure, admissions really wants to know how you thought you failed with the addition of how you turned it into a personal success. How you answer this question will reveal to the committee how do you deal with hardship. Also, if you are the kind of person who can bounce back and learn from an experience. Do not choose a trite failure like not winning a race. Also, do not draw attention to something you did that was dangerous, like distracted driving. If you can’t keep your story positive, do not choose to answer this question. The admissions office does not really want to know about your failure, but in how you overcame it.
PROMPT #3: Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
You need to speak passionately about a belief or an idea, in a compact story with a beginning, middle and end. Responses are supposed to be deeply personal, but make sure your idea of belief is not controversial. You do not know who will be reading your Common App essay and you certainly do not want to turn anyone off to you. And don’t preach. The admissions committee includes this prompt for students who define themselves by what they believe in and/or what they are willing to stand up for.
PROMPT #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.
By giving this prompt, admissions officers’ are hoping to see more intellectual expression in the personal statement. Students who elect to tackle this particular question will have the opportunity to demonstrate creative and critical thinking skills. Admissions directors are asking for a problem so that it is easier to build a story around your core answer. Note the emphasis that this problem needs to have “personal importance.” However they also add “no matter the scale.” One variation of this can be your community service project. Another variation can include not eating meat, bullying, not having money, school tests, etc. So don’t stress about not having a significant issue to write about. Even an everyday problem with significance to you can be turned into a great essay.
PROMPT #5: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
In this prompt, both “accomplishment” and “event,” leave themselves open to interpretation. This means, you can write about anything from a formal event to a very small happening. However, when choosing a story remember that the admissions reader is looking for a moment in your life that really changed you as a person. Everyone is different so an event or accomplishment might encompass anything from birthdays and weddings (formal), to achievements like earning an award or winning an election (informal). Other topics can be something as simple as working with a mentor, visiting a relative’s old neighborhood, or eating a particularly meaningful meal.
You know you found the right story when it has that element of transition and transformation. The event or accomplishment you discuss should be something that helped you understand the world around you in a more adult way or forced you to “grow up.” In other words, you should choose an event, challenge or experience where you learned something that made you feel more capable and grown up.
IMPORANT SUMMARY NOTE: Admissions wants a glimpse of your personality, your values, your interests and your passions. They want to get an idea of what kind of attitude and energy you will bring to the classroom and campus life.
Do not wait to write your essay. The sooner you start the better.
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The college advisors at International College Counselors help students from all over the world find, apply to, and gain acceptance into the college of their dreams. The expert educational consultants at International College Counselors are dedicated to helping students and their families successfully navigate the college admission process.
For more information on answering the 2015-2016 Common App essay prompts or for information on college admissions, visit http://www.internationalcollegecounselors.com or call 954 414-9986.