Thinking about the Common Application Essays

The Common Application is a single college application that students can complete and send to any number of participating colleges.  Currently there are 488 colleges and universities that accept the Common App. They represent an enormously diverse variety of institutions both inside and outside the U.S.  Since the one Common Application can be sent to many schools, this application is widely used for college admissions by high school seniors. Deadlines for sending in the application vary depending on the school.  Make sure you know these deadlines! However whatever the deadline is, start thinking about the essays now. Essays are a critical part of the Common Application.  In the past, students had the option to write about a topic of their choice.  This is now no longer a choice.  For the 2013-14 application they removed that prompt. Here are the new essay prompts for 2013-14 and some notes on how to best answer them: (Remember to keep your essay personal) a. 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. Key Words: “background,” “story,” “identity,” “incomplete without” Starter thought: Do you come from a bicultural family? Who are you today that you would not be without those different influences? b. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn? Key words: “incident,” “failure,” “effect on you,” “lessons learned” Starter thought: Did you seek a summer internship in an academic area you thought you’d like to explore more deeply, and find that you weren’t engaged in the way you wished? c. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again? Key words: “challenged,” “belief or idea,” “prompted,” “same decision” Starter thought: Were you ever told by a coach or activity director that you would not be successful in a particular activity, yet you chose to pursue it? d. Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you? Key words:  “place or environment,” “content,” “do or experience,” “meaningful” Starter thought: Is the chemistry lab, robotics workshop, or practice hall for your dance group the place where you feel most in your element? e. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family. Key words:  “accomplishment/event,” “formal/informal,” “transition to adulthood,” “culture, community, family” Starter thought: Has one of your activities taken you out of your own community, so you learned to travel and cope with new situations on your own? The number of words allowed for the essay is 650. Students are required to cut and paste their personal essay into a box that tracks the word count, and cuts off any text going over the 650 word limit. No essay can be less than 250 words.