The 2022-2023 Common App Prompts (7 Example Essays & Analysis)
THEY’RE HERE. The 2022-2023 Common App Prompts have been released and it’s time to slay the beast that is the 650-word Common Application essay. What’s that, you ask? Oh, just the personal statement you’ll be submitting to any of the hundreds of colleges that use the Common App.
You’ve got this. How do I know?
Because I wrote the book on college essays and have worked with thousands of students on their college applications and I have yet to meet a student who couldn’t, with some hard work and a few resources, make this happen.
The Common App is a college admission application with 900 member colleges that students can apply to. The Common App can allow students to submit essays, recommendation letters, and numeric measures like test scores and class rank.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- What Are the Common App Essay Prompts?
- Why Are the Common App Essay Prompts Important?
Which Common App Essay Prompt is Best?
- How Do You Answer the Common App Essay Prompts?
- Prompt #2 Essay Example
- Prompt #3 Essay Example
- Prompt #4 Essay Example
- Prompt #5 Essay Example
- Prompt #6 Essay Example
- Prompt #7 Essay Example
What are the Common App Essay Prompts?
According to the 2022/2023 Common Application , they are as follows:
1. Background Essay
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. Challenge Essay
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. Belief Essay
Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
4. Gratitude Essay
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. Accomplishment Essay
Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
6. Topic Essay
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. Create-Your-Own Essay
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.
Note: While you might be tempted to just pick one of the questions and start writing, I say hold off.
Why? I’ll explain in a minute. First, let’s go through a few important questions.
What’s the Common App Essay Word Limit?
650 words. Yep, that’s all you get.
Why are the Common App Essay Prompts Important?
Hundreds of schools use the Common App, so it’s likely that every school you apply to will read your personal statement. This is your chance to tell a story about yourself that tells us more than your test scores and grades do … to let colleges know about the wide range of skills, qualities, values, and interests that have shaped who you are today. And, most importantly, how those skills and values show that you’re prepared to attend college.
Let’s find out which college essay prompt you should choose.
There is no “best’ prompt. And this isn’t just my opinion (though it is also that), but what I know from talking to lots of admission officers.
Instead, think of these as a few different ways that the folks at the Common App are trying to help you talk about yourself in some interesting ways. And if none of those spark your interest, take a look at prompt #7, which is basically their way of saying, “You can write about your background or identity, a challenge you’ve overcome, a topic or idea that is interesting to you, or… just write about whatever the heck you want.”
So while some students might spend hours agonizing over why topic #6 on the Common App is actually better than topic #3, it’s actually not super useful to spend too much time thinking about it.
Instead, consider that colleges want to know two basic things:
Can you write well?
Will you make valuable contributions on our college campus and beyond?
If your essay provides insight into those two questions, you’re doing great.
In fact, my favorite college essay prompt to get students thinking about possible topics isn’t even on that list. In fact, if I see a student struggling with what to write about, I’ll sometimes give them this prompt:
Describe the world you come from and how it has shaped your dreams and aspirations.
It’s beautiful. The “world you come from” can mean almost anything: your grandma’s cooking, the neighborhood or home country in which you grew up, or even the challenges that you faced at home.
Your “dreams and aspirations” could mean your future career or major, or even just your hope for your city, country, or the world.
So now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dive into the fun part.
How do you Answer the Common App Essay Prompts?
This is the part I’ve been thinking about for over 15 years.
I answer this question in much more depth in my free guide to the personal statement , but here’s the TL;DR version.
1. It starts with great brainstorming.
When getting started, I recommend that students don’t look at the college essay prompts at all. Instead spend some time digging deep. This blog post has a list of my favorite brainstorming exercises.
By the time you’re done, you should have a giant menu of ideas, images, or experiences from your life that can serve as a potential essay topic, either for your main essay or for your supplemental essays .
2. It continues with finding a solid structure for your essay.
There are a few ways to structure an essay, but here are two structures that might help you based on how you answer these two questions:
Will you focus on one specific moment in your life? If so, consider using what I call what I call a Narrative Structure .
Or will you focus on a series of moments or images in your life. If so, you might consider using the Montage Structure .
3. Then, it’s lots of revising.
From there, it’s all downhill (but like in the good way). I recommend planning to do 6-8 drafts after getting feedback from your counselor, a teacher, a trusted mentor, or friend.
Either way, the key is to write your deepest story and reveal insight into who you are and what you care about. (If you’re curious, here are the four qualities I think every great college essay should demonstrate.)
If you need some help revising your essay to improve the flow, I’ve got a full blog post on Revising Your Essay in 5 Steps .
4. Get feedback.
One roadblock to improving stagnant essays is not having an outside perspective. Find a teacher, parent, or peer whose opinion you trust and ask their feedback on what they like about the essay and what they think might improve it. Remember: Sometimes people can give conflicting feedback, so beware of trying to please everyone. If you’re looking for some advanced help on your essay and you can’t afford it, you may qualify for the Matchlighters Scholarship to receive some individualized feedback.
If you and a peer have swapped essays to get each other feedback, you can always follow the guide to giving feedback in the Choose Your Own Adventure Tool .
If you’re at a loss for where to go next and don’t have someone to get feedback from, you can always self-assess using the Great College Essay Test to see if your final draft is doing all of the things a great college essay should.
5. Then decide which prompt fits your essay.
At the end, once it’s time to submit, you can scan the prompts and see which prompt fits best. Often, great personal statements work for multiple prompts.
Don’t see one that fits? Just choose prompt #7.
Lastly, I think it helps to take a look at essays that do a great job. Why?
By seeing what other students have written and seeing a range of topics, structures, and style, you might get some inspiration on how to tell your own story.
Common App Essay Examples for each Prompt
Here are some of my favorite sample essays, with a bit of analysis on why I like each one so much.
When I was very little, I caught the travel bug. It started after my grandparents first brought me to their home in France and I have now been to twenty-nine different countries. Each has given me a unique learning experience. At five, I marveled at the Eiffel Tower in the City of Lights. When I was eight, I stood in the heart of Piazza San Marco feeding hordes of pigeons, then glided down Venetian waterways on sleek gondolas. At thirteen, I saw the ancient, megalithic structure of Stonehenge and walked along the Great Wall of China, amazed that the thousand-year-old stones were still in place. It was through exploring cultures around the world that I first became interested in language. It began with French, which taught me the importance of pronunciation. I remember once asking a store owner in Paris where Rue des Pyramides was. But when I pronounced it PYR–a–mides instead of pyr–A–mides, with more accent on the A, she looked at me bewildered. In the eighth grade, I became fascinated with Spanish and aware of its similarities with English through cognates. Baseball in Spanish, for example, is béisbol, which looks different but sounds nearly the same. This was incredible to me as it made speech and comprehension more fluid, and even today I find that cognates come to the rescue when I forget how to say something in Spanish. Then, in high school, I developed an enthusiasm for Chinese. As I studied Chinese at my school, I marveled how if just one stroke was missing from a character, the meaning is lost. I loved how long words were formed by combining simpler characters, so Huǒ (火) meaning fire and Shān (山) meaning mountain can be joined to create Huǒshān (火山), which means volcano. I love spending hours at a time practicing the characters and I can feel the beauty and rhythm as I form them. Interestingly, after studying foreign languages, I was further intrigued by my native tongue. Through my love of books and fascination with developing a sesquipedalian lexicon (learning big words), I began to expand my English vocabulary. Studying the definitions prompted me to inquire about their origins, and suddenly I wanted to know all about etymology, the history of words. My freshman year I took a world history class and my love for history grew exponentially. To me, history is like a great novel, and it is especially fascinating because it took place in my own world. But the best dimension that language brought to my life is interpersonal connection. When I speak with people in their native language, I find I can connect with them on a more intimate level. I’ve connected with people in the most unlikely places, finding a Bulgarian painter to use my few Bulgarian words with in the streets of Paris, striking up a conversation in Spanish with an Indian woman who used to work at the Argentinian embassy in Mumbai, and surprising a library worker by asking her a question in her native Mandarin. I want to study foreign language and linguistics in college because, in short, it is something that I know I will use and develop for the rest of my life. I will never stop traveling, so attaining fluency in foreign languages will only benefit me. In the future, I hope to use these skills as the foundation of my work, whether it is in international business, foreign diplomacy, or translation. I think of my journey as best expressed through a Chinese proverb that my teacher taught me, “I am like a chicken eating at a mountain of rice.” Each grain is another word for me to learn as I strive to satisfy my unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Today, I still have the travel bug, and now, it seems, I am addicted to language too. — — —
Tips + Analysis:
Find a thematic thread. After a close read, you’ll notice that the author didn’t necessarily overcome a specific challenge but rather used the Montage Structure to write around a general theme (or multiple themes). In this case, the guiding themes were the student’s love of language and travel. Think of these themes as a clothesline and each body paragraph as a particular article of clothing being hung on it to dry. Don’t be intimidated if you don’t have a narrative story to tell. Notice how well the author gives us a visceral sense of time and place, jumping from different memories and observations about people he’s met and places he’s been. This type of essay gives you tons of room to experiment and cover lots of different topics at once.
Show (don’t tell) your values. One of the most important things to do in your personal statement is give your reader a sense of who you are and what you value . Of course you can’t cover everything, but a great essay (no matter the prompt) will give people a sense of what makes you, well, you. In this essay, some of the core values this author shows are: adventure, culture, curiosity, attention to detail, history, abstract thinking, human connection, and others too. If you’re not totally sure what your values are, that’s totally okay! Check out our Values Exercise to get started.
Think about the future. Whatever type of essay you choose to write, it’s a good idea to spend some time thinking about what’s next. This essay discusses the qualities that he believes will serve him in his future career. But don’t freak out about it. You don’t necessarily have to get hyper-specific about what career you plan to go into (although if you know what you want to do, go for it!). You can also talk about things more generally in terms of the interests or values that guide you so your reader knows you have some sense of direction.
They covered the precious mahogany coffin with a brown amalgam of rocks, decomposed organisms, and weeds. It was my turn to take the shovel, but I felt too ashamed to dutifully send her off when I had not properly said goodbye. I refused to throw dirt on her. I refused to let go of my grandmother, to accept a death I had not seen coming, to believe that an illness could not only interrupt, but steal a beloved life. When my parents finally revealed to me that my grandmother had been battling liver cancer, I was twelve and I was angry--mostly with myself. They had wanted to protect me--only six years old at the time--from the complex and morose concept of death. However, when the end inevitably arrived, I wasn’t trying to comprehend what dying was; I was trying to understand how I had been able to abandon my sick grandmother in favor of playing with friends and watching TV. Hurt that my parents had deceived me and resentful of my own oblivion, I committed myself to preventing such blindness from resurfacing. I became desperately devoted to my education because I saw knowledge as the key to freeing myself from the chains of ignorance. While learning about cancer in school I promised myself that I would memorize every fact and absorb every detail in textbooks and online medical journals. And as I began to consider my future, I realized that what I learned in school would allow me to silence that which had silenced my grandmother. However, I was focused not with learning itself, but with good grades and high test scores. I started to believe that academic perfection would be the only way to redeem myself in her eyes--to make up for what I had not done as a granddaughter. However, a simple walk on a hiking trail behind my house made me open my own eyes to the truth. Over the years, everything--even honoring my grandmother--had become second to school and grades. As my shoes humbly tapped against the Earth, the towering trees blackened by the forest fire a few years ago, the faintly colorful pebbles embedded in the sidewalk, and the wispy white clouds hanging in the sky reminded me of my small though nonetheless significant part in a larger whole that is humankind and this Earth. Before I could resolve my guilt, I had to broaden my perspective of the world as well as my responsibilities to my fellow humans. Volunteering at a cancer treatment center has helped me discover my path. When I see patients trapped in not only the hospital but also a moment in time by their diseases, I talk to them. For six hours a day, three times a week, Ivana is surrounded by IV stands, empty walls, and busy nurses that quietly yet constantly remind her of her breast cancer. Her face is pale and tired, yet kind--not unlike my grandmother’s. I need only to smile and say hello to see her brighten up as life returns to her face. Upon our first meeting, she opened up about her two sons, her hometown, and her knitting group--no mention of her disease. Without even standing up, the three of us—Ivana, me, and my grandmother--had taken a walk together. Cancer, as powerful and invincible as it may seem, is a mere fraction of a person’s life. It’s easy to forget when one’s mind and body are so weak and vulnerable. I want to be there as an oncologist to remind them to take a walk once in a while, to remember that there’s so much more to life than a disease. While I physically treat their cancer, I want to lend patients emotional support and mental strength to escape the interruption and continue living. Through my work, I can accept the shovel without burying my grandmother’s memory. — — —
Tips + Analysis
Start with a great hook. Before you can tell your reader anything about yourself, they have to be invested enough to keep reading. That’s why your first couple sentences are so important . Think of writing your personal statement as a first date, you want to make a great impression from the very beginning. Starting with an interesting detail, funny anecdote, or shocking moment are a couple ways to do that. In this essay, the author does a great job of hooking us in with the visceral details about his grandmother’s funeral and the complex set of emotions he felt in the moment. It doesn’t take up too much of the word count, but afterwards, you can’t help but want to read more.
Be vulnerable. This is one of the most important tips we can give you about writing your personal statement. A great essay should give your reader critical insights into what motivates or interests you and that requires a level of vulnerability. Does this mean you need to tell them every part of your life story? Definitely not. But notice in this essay how raw the topic is for the author and how honest he is about his feelings. Seeing him struggle with the death of a loved one helps us understand how he thinks and allows us to empathize with him. And, to be vulnerable, you don’t have to write about a topic like a death in the family. Being vulnerable is as simple as digging into the “why.” You may not have gone through something life changing or traumatic like this author, but we promise you that you have tons to offer. Connect your experiences to your values and don’t be afraid to pose questions you don’t quite know the answer to yet. The more care you put into your essay, the more your reader will care as well.
Find your narrative arc. Unlike the first example essay, this one follows a Narrative Structure . This is a great structure for this student because they faced a significant challenge and could break it down into an initial challenge (their grandmother dying), what they did about it (channeled their grief into school and then eventually into volunteering and the cancer center), what they learned (they want to be an oncologist). These three components afford them a natural narrative arc for their essay that is satisfying to read and gives us a sense of how an important event/person shaped the person they are today. This author knows what career path they’re interested in pursuing, but if you’re not totally sure what you want to do in the future but have a significant challenge to write about, you can just talk about what you learned in more value-based terms (ie. I became more resourceful, this experience spurred an interest in artistic collaboration and creativity, etc.).
For over two years, my final class of the day has been nontraditional. No notes, no tests, no official assignments. Just a twenty-three minute lecture every Monday through Thursday, which I watched from my couch. Professor Jon Stewart would lecture his class about the news of the day, picking apart the absurdities of current events. The Daily Show inspired me to explore the methods behind the madness of the world Stewart satirized. Although I’d always had a passion for the news, I evolved from scrolling through Yahoo ’s homepage to reading articles from The New York Times and The Economist . I also began to tie in knowledge I learned in school. I even caught The Daily Show inexcusably putting a picture of John Quincy Adams at a table with the founding fathers instead of John Adams! Thanks, APUSH. Clearly, The Daily Show has a political slant. However, Stewart convinced me that partisan media, regardless of its political affiliation, can significantly impact its viewers’ political beliefs. I wrote a psychology paper analyzing the polarizing effects of the media and how confirmation bias leads already opinionated viewers to ossify their beliefs. As a debater, I’ve learned to argue both sides of an issue, and the hardest part of this is recognizing one’s own biases. I myself had perhaps become too biased from my viewing of The Daily Show , and ultimately this motivated me to watch CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, allowing me to assimilate information from opposing viewpoints. I embraced my new role as an intellectual moderator in academic discourse… at my friend’s 17th birthday party. It was there that two friends started arguing over the Baltimore riots. One argued that the anti-police rhetoric of the protest was appalling; the other countered by decrying the clear presence of race discrimination still in the country. Both had their biases: the friend who argued on behalf of the police was the son of a police officer, while my friend who defended the protests personally knew people protesting in Baltimore. I questioned both on their positions, and ultimately, both reconsidered the other’s perspective. However, I began to wonder: was I excusing myself from the responsibility of taking a position on key issues? Perhaps there are times that I shouldn’t merely understand both sides, but actually choose one. In biology, for example, we studied the debates over evolution and climate change. Is it my role, as an informed student, to advocate both sides of the debate, despite one side being overwhelmingly supported by scientific evidence? Maybe I must sometimes shed my identity as Devil’s advocate and instead be an advocate for my own convictions. Although I don’t have a news (or fake news) network where I can voice my opinions, I look towards further assessing my own viewpoints while maintaining my role as an impartial academic debater. I am eager to delve into an intellectual environment that challenges me to decide when to be objective and when to embrace my bias and argue for my own beliefs. — — —
Demonstrate craft. While content is important, craft is what’ll bring the best stories to life. In some shorter supplemental essays , you might be more pressed in terms of word count and you may have to sacrifice poetry in favor of the facts. But, in the personal statement, it’s really important to demonstrate your ability to communicate relevant information in an interesting way. That’s why it’s helpful to think of writing as a process—it’s very rare that we’ve seen an outstanding personal statement that didn’t go through at least 5 drafts. Everything you write should be carefully considered . You don’t want your ideas to come off as sloppy or half-baked. Your reader should see the care you put into brainstorming and writing in every sentence. Notice how well this author uses the idea of having Jon Stewart of The Daily Show as his “teacher” every Friday, into his interest in debate and unbiased journalism/information. Through and through, the piece is clever, engaging, and unexpected in the best ways.
Show insight and growth. Your personal statement should ideally have at least 3-5 “so what” moments, points at which you draw insights or reflections from your experiences that speak to your values or sense of purpose. Sometimes, “so what” moments are subtle. Other times, they’re more explicit. Either way, the more illuminating, the better. They shouldn’t come out of nowhere, but they also shouldn’t be predictable. You want the reader to see your mind in action and take that journey of self-reflection with you. In this essay, the author questions whether or not he is using his dedication to impartiality as an excuse not to take sides on important issues. And although this tension isn’t fully resolved, his awareness of this potential blind spot is an example of a “so what” moment because it shows his increased ability to think critically about his own biases (or lack thereof) and demonstrates a new level of maturity as he develops his sense of self.
Embed your values in your essay. In a great personal statement, we should be able to get a sense of what fulfills, motivates, or excites the author. These can be things like humor, beauty, community, and autonomy, just to name a few. So when you read back through your essay, you should be able to detect at least 4-5 different values throughout. For instance, in this essay, the author emphasizes values like truth, honesty, clear communication, and introspection. When you look for these values in your own essay, also consider whether or not they’re varied or similar. For instance, values like hard work, determination, and perseverance … are basically the same thing. On the other hand, more varied values like resourcefulness, healthy boundaries, and diversity can showcase different qualities and offer a more nuanced sense of who you are.
What are you? I’ve been asked this question most of my life because people don’t know what to make of a face that’s both Japanese and Caucasian. But when I think about who I am, I think of Baba and Jiji. I think about making our favorite recipes, how each dish tastes a little bit different according to “ingredients” like the hour, place, or conversation. Much like these recipes, I am always changing in response to the things I learn from the people I love. One hot dog, a buttery rice ball, and a dash of shoyu. The butter and shoyu’s saltiness, the hot dogs’ smokiness, the nostalgia of every spoonful. They take me back to New York, where my grandparents lived only minutes away. Several days a week, a common scene unfolded in our apartment: Jiji stacked animals with me and my sister, while Baba serenaded us with the clink of pans in the kitchen as she prepared her signature “butter rice”. The pure joy I felt in those fleeting moments are important for me to remember because they keep my definition of joy alive and clear. A nori sheet, sticky rice, one shiso leaf, and two sashimi slices. The nori’s texture contrasts with the chewiness of the fish and rice, but this dish’s tastiest elements were the vegetables Baba carefully picked from the supermarket. What made them truly special was how we constructed and ate them between turns on Mahjong. Our family’s tradition of making handrolls and playing board games emerged after my grandparents moved to Hawaii to be closer to Japan. As our visits became less frequent, I began to grasp the lengths my family took to conserve our relationship with Baba and Jiji. With every trip, I grew more appreciative of the time we spent together, which deepened my understanding of joy by seeing that it creates ground from which gratitude can grow. Steaming shoyu broth, a boiled egg, bean sprouts, three nori sheets, and a serving of noodles. During my two-week visit to Japan, I had dozens of ramen bowls and traveled on the Shinkansen from the Golden Pavilion to the Fushimi-Inari Trail. However, what surprised me most about Japan was what I learned about my grandparents. Seeing them run errands, meet with friends, and take walks together gave me a sense of admiration for Baba and Jiji as individuals who led their own lives, rather than simply as doting grandparents. This admiration not only made me grateful for the time we shared; it brought me greater awareness of myself. I reflected on our experiences together to connect with my Japanese identity rather than relying on their physical presence in my life. When I heard Baba and Jiji wouldn’t be visiting anymore, I felt worried. Worried about what would happen to all our traditions of food and board games, worried that without them there, all the memories would fade away. But my relationship with Baba and Jiji has grown stronger by weathering time and distance. It’s become a part of who I am: a person who values change as a constant; a person who sees myself through the shifting lens of relationships rather than as a fixed set of traits; a person who employs joy, gratitude, and awareness to move through the world. — — —
Dig into the details. One of the main things that makes this essay stand out is the author’s incredible attention to detail. He uses sensorial observations about food he’s eaten as the thematic string to tie his essay together (if you’re wanting to find a theme or object like this for yourself, check out our Essence Objects brainstorming exercise). Notice how the first sentence of each body paragraph comes back to the details that root him in his culture and family (ie. “One hot dog, a buttery rice ball, and a dash of shoyu,” “A nori sheet, sticky rice, one shiso leaf, and two sashimi slices,” etc). Not only do these make the essay more fun and unique to read by harnessing the power of the senses, they also give us a consistent structure to orient ourselves throughout the piece. The more specific details you can give, the more you’ll be able to differentiate yourself from other applicants.
Ask questions. This essay actually starts with one—”What are you?” Don’t be afraid to reflect and ask big questions like this in your essay. Nobody knows the answer to everything, especially at this stage in your life. Don’t approach questions as a point of weakness, but rather as a source of strength and personal growth. Knowing how to ask a good question demonstrates a level of awareness, humility, and maturity that will endear you to readers rather than put them off.
Embrace the “and” of identity. Another great aspect of this essay is the author’s approach to understanding his own identity. Like everyone, he’s multifaceted, with different components to his family lineage and cultural background. Rather than try to condense these different facets of his identity into one thing for the sake of a clear narrative, he actually uses his personal statement to reconcile the tension between them and the messiness of trying to find a succinct narrative. In your essay, don’t be afraid to do the same thing! You don’t necessarily have to solve the tension between different values you uphold, identities you have, or communities of which you are a part. Articulately thinking through their complexities can be a really powerful way to approach the personal statement.
February 2011– My brothers and I were showing off our soccer dribbling skills in my grandfather’s yard when we heard gunshots and screaming in the distance. We paused and listened, confused by sounds we had only ever heard on the news or in movies. My mother rushed out of the house and ordered us inside. The Arab Spring had come to Bahrain. I learned to be alert to the rancid smell of tear gas. Its stench would waft through the air before it invaded my eyes, urging me inside before they started to sting. Newspaper front pages constantly showed images of bloodied clashes, made worse by Molotov cocktails. Martial Law was implemented; roaming tanks became a common sight. On my way to school, I nervously passed burning tires and angry protesters shouting “Yaskut Hamad! “ [“Down with King Hamad!”]. Bahrain, known for its palm trees and pearls, was waking up from a slumber. The only home I had known was now a place where I learned to fear. September 2013– Two and a half years after the uprisings, the events were still not a distant memory. I decided the answer to fear was understanding. I began to analyze the events and actions that led to the upheaval of the Arab Springs. In my country, religious and political tensions were brought to light as Shias, who felt underrepresented and neglected within the government, challenged the Sunnis, who were thought to be favored for positions of power. I wanted equality and social justice; I did not want the violence to escalate any further and for my country to descend into the nightmare that is Libya and Syria. September 2014– Pursuing understanding helped allay my fears, but I also wanted to contribute to Bahrain in a positive way. I participated in student government as a student representative and later as President, became a member of Model United Nations (MUN), and was elected President of the Heritage Club, a charity-focused club supporting refugees and the poor. As an MUN delegate, I saw global problems from perspectives other than my own and used my insight to push for compromise. I debated human rights violations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from an Israeli perspective, argued whether Syrian refugees should be allowed entry into neighboring European countries, and then created resolutions for each problem. In the Heritage Club, I raised funds and ran food drives so that my team could provide support for less fortunate Bahrainis. We regularly distributed boxed lunches to migrant workers, bags of rice to refugees and air conditioners to the poor. April 2016 – The Crown Prince International Scholarship Program (CPISP) is an intensive leadership training program where participants are chosen on merit, not political ideologies. Both Shia and Sunni candidates are selected, helping to diversify the future leadership of my country. I was shortlisted to attend the training during that summer. July 2016 – The CPISP reaffirmed for me the importance of cooperation. At first, building chairs out of balloons and skyscrapers out of sticks didn’t seem meaningful. But as I learned to apply different types of leadership styles to real-life situations and honed my communication skills to lead my team, I began to see what my country was missing: harmony based on trust. Bringing people together from different backgrounds and successfully completing goals—any goal—builds trust. And trust is the first step to lasting peace. October 2016 – I have only begun to understand my people and my history, but I no longer live in fear. Instead, I have found purpose. I plan to study political science and economics to find answers for the issues that remain unresolved in my country. Bahrain can be known for something more than pearl diving, palm trees, and the Arab Spring; it can be known for the understanding of its people, including me. — — —
Use structure to enhance clarity. Rather than be intimidated by the 650-word count, think about how you can break down your essay into smaller, bite-sized pieces. The author here does this through chronology, linking each paragraph to a specific time up until the present moment. This is helpful on a practical level because it prevents things from becoming one dense paragraph that’s hard to read. It’s also nice from a content point of view because it groups similar themes or experiences together in an intuitive way. This is especially helpful for a Narrative Essay like this one because it helps us visualize the distinct parts of the story rather than try to figure it out on our own. In a sense, an effective structure helps set a good pace for the narrative and acts as a visual guide for readers. We’d recommend using the Feelings and Needs Exercise if you need some help figuring out which components of your narrative you a) want to write about and b) need to group together.
Always bring it back to you . Some students choose to write their personal statements about complex and politically-charged topics. And that’s a great idea if it’s something that connects to your values, culture, identity, and/or life experiences. However, a lot of these kinds of topics are very nuanced and have deep-rooted histories that would take years to fully understand. Remember, while you may be focusing on a specific event, conflict, or place, this essay is ultimately about you and what you want out of your college experience. Don’t get so lost in the weeds of explaining something that you forget to tie it to your own choices, values, thoughts, or aspirations. This author does a great job of that. Although he’s talking about his experience of a bigger event (the Arab Spring), he connects it back to clubs he’s led or academic paths he’d like to pursue in the future. Remember to keep the majority of the essay centered around you even if the context for it is bigger than just your story.
Vary sentence and paragraph length. If you want to keep your reader engaged throughout your essay, it’s important to think about how you can use structure to pace your writing. Notice how most of this student’s paragraphs are no more than 3-4 sentences max. He doesn't drone on about one topic for long or try to cram everything into a huge, dense block of text that’s impossible to read. Short sentences and sentence fragments can also be your friend. If used well, they can create impact and help draw the reader’s attention to a specific idea or value. In other words, be intentional with how you write and structure your piece.
My story begins at about the age of two, when I first learned what a maze was. For most people, solving mazes is a childish phase, but I enjoyed artistically designing them. Eventually my creations jumped from their two dimensional confinement, requiring the solver to dive through holes to the other side, or fold part of the paper over, then right back again. At around the age of eight, I invented a way for mazes to carry binary-encoded messages, with left turns and right turns representing 0s and 1s. This evolved into a base-3 maze on the surface of a tetrahedron, with crossing an edge representing a 2. For me, a blank piece of paper represented the freedom to explore new dimensions, pushing the boundaries of traditional maze making. I found a similar freedom in mathematics. Here's what I wrote when I was 9: N+B=Z M^2=P E-(L+B)=G C/Y=Z-Q B+B=Y (D-V)^9-(P*L)=J W=(I-V)^2 Y+B+C=R O^2+(Y*O)=T F^3-(T+W)=F^2 V-R=H-U A^3-C=N Y^2+B=L J^2-J=J+(P+I) Y^3=X X-R=M-O D*A-B-(V+Y)=E U-X-O=W P/P=B S-A=U (Z+B)*C=P C(+/-)B=A U+C=H R-L=S-T The object of puzzles like these was to solve for every letter, assuming they each represented a unique positive integer, and that both sides of each equation are positive. These are not typical assumptions for practical mathematics, and I didn't even need 26 equations. Upon formally learning algebra, I was dismayed that "proper math" operated under a different set of assumptions, that two variables can be equal, or be non-integers, and that you always need as many equations as variables. Yet looking back, I now see that mathematics was so inspirational because there really is no "proper" way, no convention to hold me from discovering a completely original method of thought. Math was, and still is, yet another way for me to freely express my creativity and different way of thinking without constraint. It's all about freedom. The thoughts are there, they just need a way to escape. The greatest single advancement that delivered even more freedom was my first computer, and on it, one of the first computer games I ever played: "Maze Madness." It was a silly and simple game, but I remember being awed that I could create my own levels. Through the years, I've made thousands (not exaggerating) of levels in a variety of different computer games. I get most excited when I discover a bug that I can incorporate to add a new twist to the traditional gameplay. A few years ago I grew tired of working within the constraints of most internet games and I wanted to program my own, so I decided to learn the language of Scratch. With it, I created several computer games, incorporating such unordinary aspects of gameplay as the avoidance of time-travel paradoxes, and the control of "jounce," the fourth derivative of position with respect to time. Eventually, I came to realize that Scratch was too limited to implement some of my ideas, so I learned C#, and my potential expanded exponentially. I continue to study programming knowing that the more I learn, the more tools I have to express my creativity. I plan to design computer systems that are as outside of the box as my thoughts. And who knows where it will lead? My way of thinking in different dimensions could be the very thing separating computers from humans, and it could motivate the creation of true artificial intelligence. To me, studying computer science is the next step of an evolution of boundary breaking that has been underway since my first maze. — — —
Take creative risks. Okay so, it’s not exactly normal to see a 24-line math equation right smack dab in the middle of a personal statement. That being said, it’s actually a very effective strategy given the interests and narrative voice of this particular student. It highlights his clear penchant for math at a young age and shows his fascination with numeric experimentation. It breaks up the flow of the essay in a way that’s a breath of fresh air. Actually, by showing his experimentation with equations, he’s also experimenting with how he writes, highlighting his creativity on two levels! Of course, you never want to sacrifice clarity or content for a creative gimmick but when it will really help your reader see your thought process in action, we would definitely urge you to give it a go. This is what first, second, third, and however many more drafts are for!
Use “geeky” language, when possible. Don’t be afraid to show off your interest-specific knowledge—but in a way that doesn’t feel off-putting. This student takes a nice approach of not going overboard when discussing mathematical concepts and computer programming, while also making sure the reader knows he has some expertise in this area through illustrative details and occasional definitions.
Go back in time as far (or as little) as it seems relevant. Many people stress over trying to fit everything about themselves into this one 650-word personal statement. Our advice? You can’t fit everything in and you shouldn’t try to. What you’re trying to do here is use one theme, object, or story to illustrate your core interests and values. In this case, the author is emphasizing his love of freedom and experimentation as well as his aspirations to pursue a degree in computer science. Now, clearly he’s been interested in mathematics for a long time, but that doesn’t mean he has to tell us every detail about his life from the age of two onward. Instead, he picks and chooses moments at different points in time that speak to the core of who he is and what he loves. The first paragraph is about his days as a toddler and the second is nearly seven years later. And after that, he jumps forward to things he’s done in high school and wants to do in college. That’s totally okay! As you think about your essay, don’t stress about cramming everything in. Rather, pick out a couple great moments you can highlight that will show your reader the most important takeaways.
I have been pooped on many times. I mean this in the most literal sense possible. I have been pooped on by pigeons and possums, house finches and hawks, egrets and eastern grays. I don’t mind it, either. For that matter, I also don’t mind being pecked at, hissed at, scratched and bitten—and believe me, I have experienced them all. I don’t mind having to skin dead mice, feeding the remaining red embryonic mass to baby owls. (Actually, that I do mind a little.) I don’t mind all this because when I’m working with animals, I know that even though they probably hate me as I patch them up, their health and welfare is completely in my hands. Their chances of going back to the wild, going back to their homes, rely on my attention to their needs and behaviors. My enduring interest in animals and habitat loss led me to intern at the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley over the summer, and it was there that I was lucky enough to meet those opossum joeys that defecated on my shoes whenever I picked them up (forcing me to designate my favorite pair of shoes as animal hospital shoes, never to be worn elsewhere again). It was there that a juvenile squirrel decided my finger looked fit to suckle, and that many an angry pigeon tried to peck off my hands. And yet, when the internship ended, I found myself hesitant to leave. That hesitation didn’t simply stem from my inherent love of animals. It was from the sense of responsibility that I developed while working with orphaned and injured wildlife. After all, most of the animals are there because of us—the baby opossums and squirrels are there because we hit their mothers with our cars, raptors and coyotes end up there due to secondary rodenticide poisoning and illegal traps. We are responsible for the damage, so I believe we are responsible for doing what we can to help. And of course, there is empathy—empathy for the animals who lost their mothers, their homes, their sight and smell, their ability to fly or swim. I couldn’t just abandon them. I couldn’t just abandon them the same way I couldn’t let big oil companies completely devastate the Arctic, earth’s air conditioner. The same way I couldn’t ignore the oceans, where destructive fishing practices have been wiping out ocean life. These are not jobs that can be avoided or left half-finished. For some, the Arctic is simply too far away, and the oceans will always teem with life, while for others these problems seem too great to ever conquer. And while I have had these same feelings many times over, I organized letter-writing campaigns, protested, and petitioned the oil companies to withdraw. I campaigned in local parks to educate people on sustaining the seas. I hold on to the hope that persistent efforts will prevent further damage. I sometimes wonder if my preoccupation with social and environmental causes just makes me feel less guilty. Maybe I do it just to ease my own conscience, so I can tell people “At least I did something.” I hope that it’s not just that. I hope it’s because my mother always told me to treat others as I want to be treated, even if I sometimes took this to its logical extreme, moving roadkill to the bushes along the side of the road because “Ma, if I was hit by a car I would want someone to move me off the road, too.” The upshot is that I simply cannot walk away from injustice, however uncomfortable it is to confront it. I choose to act, taking a stand and exposing the truth in the most effective manner that I think is possible. And while I’m sure I will be dumped on many times, both literally and metaphorically, I won’t do the same to others. — — —
Choose a topic you’re genuinely interested in and passionate about. This may seem obvious, but you don’t want to talk about something just because you think it’s what colleges want to hear. If you don’t care that much about it, that’ll likely be reflected in the essay you write. It’s so clear from this author’s language how much she genuinely cares about taking care of the world around her. If anything, we see that it’s in her very nature to lend a helping hand when she sees something or someone in need (even if it means she has to get pooped on). Try picking a topic that shows off several different facets of your personality and skill set while also staying true to your authentic interests.
Give us a glimpse into your world. One thing that stands out about this essay is the clarity the author has about specific moments and memories around animals and the environment. She then is able to connect these details (like her tendency to move roadkill or get pooped on) to values like empathy and advocacy. Using the 21 Details Exercise will help you identify these moments or observations in your own life and connect them to values.
Be funny… or don’t. This author does a great job of using humor and sarcasm about her tendency to get pooped on as a lighthearted way to address meaningful connections she’s made with animals and the dedication she has to helping them. However, while humor is a great tool to use in some cases, it’s not the only way to write a great essay. If you’re a person who’s comfortable cracking a joke or two, go for it. If being funny doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t try and force it. Remember the personal statement can essentially be about anything and written in any way. The key is finding your authentic voice and channeling it into a topic that feels true to you.
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How to Write Common App Essay Prompt #2
This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Hale Jaeger in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
What is prompt #2, how to choose a challenge.
- Prompt #2 Essay Examples and Tips
How to Craft Your Prompt #2 Essay
Applicants can respond to one of seven prompts for their Common App essay . This essay should be less than 650 words, and it should creatively tell admissions readers about who you are. This article will help you write an essay that answers Prompt #2, which is:
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 invites you to talk about what facets of your personality have allowed you to overcome adversity. It’s about resilience, it’s about creativity, and it’s about the qualities that will help you get back on your feet after you fall down.
While it’s okay to write about relatively mundane failures, such as not winning an award at your Model UN conference or failing a class, a more powerful tactic is to write about something more foundational that you failed at. Then, you can assess that base failure and its impact on your development.
There are times in your life when your foundation is uprooted, and there are times when you experience failure and you want to give up because you just don’t see a solution. You will want to write an essay about how you respond when you’re destabilized in these moments and what your actions look like when you don’t see an immediate resolution to your challenges.
Prompt #2 Essay Examples and Tips
Reflect on one failure.
As an example of an answer to this prompt, let’s say that 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. So, if you’ve lost this friend because of an argument that you had, you can demonstrate growth through realizing that it wasn’t worth losing a valued relationship over something so silly as whatever you were arguing about. You can talk about how you’ve taken that lesson to heart and that you now make sure you are proactive in your relationships and maintaining them. You could also discuss that, while you may have ideas that you care about or convictions that you hold, you always evaluate whether you prioritize that idea or the person with whom you’re talking about it.
Here are some more questions to ask yourself as you think of a response to prompt #2 : Did you ever admit fault and seek to fix the problem? Have you treated other people differently since then? How has this event changed the way you view such situations? Framing the prompt in this way really allows you to tackle heavier questions about ethics and demonstrate a sense of self-awareness that shows maturity and growth.
Write About a Recurring Challenge
If you haven’t experienced a big, big failure, another angle to take would be to discuss smaller repeated failures that are either linked or similar thematically. An example would be an essay about how you used to stutter or get nervous in large social groups — this isn’t a failure, but you can discuss the steps you took to find a solution to this challenge.
Even if you don’t have a massive foundational obstacle to write about, a recurring challenge can translate into a powerful essay topic, especially if the steps you took to overcome this repeated failure helped develop your character.
As an example of this, let’s take a look at an essay about a writer’s recurring struggle to be more empathetic. The writer in this example assumed that because his brother Sam was sociable, Sam was adjusting well to their family’s move. However, after an angry outburst from Sam and a late night conversation, the writer realizes that he needed to develop a greater sense of empathy and sensitivity. Here’s an excerpt of the essay:
“You ruined my life!” Sam shouted.
After months of quiet anger, my brother finally confronted me to my shame. I had been appallingly ignorant of his pain. When my parents learned about the Smith academy, we hoped it would be an opportunity for me to find not only an academically challenging environment, but also a community.
This meant transferring the family. And, while there was concern about Sam, we all believed that given his sociable nature, moving would be far less impactful on him than staying put might be on me. As it turned out, Smith Academy was everything I’d hoped for, but, preoccupied with my new friends and a rigorous course load, I’d failed to notice that the tables had turned.
Sam had become withdrawn and lonely. While I saw myself as genuinely compassionate, I had been oblivious to the heartache of the person closest to me, and I could no longer ignore it. And I didn’t want to.
We stayed up half the night. Sam opened up and shared that it wasn’t just about the move. 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. We had been in parallel battles the whole time, and yet I only saw that Sam was in distress once he experienced problems which I directly identified.
My failure to recognize Sam’s suffering brought home for me the profound universality and diversity of personal struggle. Everyone has insecurities. Everyone has woes, and everyone most certainly has pain. This experience has reinforced the value of constantly striving for deeper sensitivity to the hidden struggles of those around me.
We can see from this excerpt that the writer brings up a recurring challenge, which is being sensitive to their brother’s needs and pain. Where this essay might go next is to talk about how they begin to address this. Now that they’ve had this realization, what growth have they achieved in order to become more sensitive? How do they express their sensitivity to others? And, what makes them better now than they were the day before?
Want to know if your prompt #2 essay could be improved? Find out by using our Peer Essay Review tool , where another student will give you a free, anonymous, and secure review of your essay. You can also earn CollegeVine Karma by reviewing other users’ essays while sharpening your own writing skills in the process!
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2022-2023 Common Application Essay Prompts: Examples & Templates
If you are looking for guidance on the Common Application, including Common App essay prompts and essay examples and templates as well as answers to the most common questions about the Common App, then you’ve come to the right place.
This Application Prep guide is fully updated with the 2022-2023 Common App application and essay prompts .
Don’t forget to access and save this Common App essay template we created to help you write unique and memorable essays. Keep reading for breakdowns and examples for each essay prompt .
Before you dive in, it’s important to understand that all of the colleges that use the Common App each receive thousands of applications every year. To help you stand out from the crowd, you need to demonstrate a clear sense of self , strong life experience , and exemplary communication skills .
Our ‘full student’ coaching process does exactly that. If you’re not working with a coach, be sure to read the Self-Awareness , Goal-Setting , and Narrative Communication Skills Guides.
The Narrative Communication Approach™ is a particularly useful storytelling framework that helps you tell a clear and concise story, while creating an emotional connection with the reader. All Common App essay prompt examples use this approach.
In this guide, we’ll give you Common App essay prompt templates and examples that use this approach to help make your essay deeply personal and unique — which is exactly what the admissions counselors at all the colleges and universities you’re applying to look for.
If you’re serious about creating a standout Common App and getting into all the colleges on your list and reaching your fullest post-secondary potential, connect with a coach . It’s never too early to receive coaching.
Table of Contents
- Common Application Overview : Application Requirements; Deadlines; Fees; Essays; Recommendations; and More.
- 2022-2023 Common App : Personal essay prompts; Question breakdowns and tips; Question templates and examples; and More.
- Common App FAQs : What is the Common App used for?; Why do I need to write a Common App?; What Common App Essay should I choose?; Do I need a recommendation?; and More.
How to Write the Common App (Overview): What You Need To Know
What is the common app.
Common App is a free application tool that’s designed to simplify the application process for first year and transfer students as they apply and get into college. Common App has more than 900 member colleges and universities around the world.
With the Common App, you only need to complete one application to apply to up to 20 colleges and/or universities at once .
Common App Deadlines
The 2022-2023 Common App opens on August 1, 2022 . While there is no specific deadline for the Common App, you MUST submit it before the deadline of the college/university you’re applying to (and whether you are applying for early admission or regular admission).
You can find each school’s app deadlines by going to the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and clicking the ‘Application Requirements’ button to see the date requirements for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list.
COACH’S TIP : Common App recently announced that the 2022-2023 application is the same as the 2021-2022 application, including the Personal Essay prompts. We recommend that you get started as soon as possible, so you have plenty of time to make your app and essay perfect. If you’re eager to get started on the app before it opens on August 1, you can start it early (the 2022-2023 essay prompts are the same as the 2021-2022 prompts), and then simply transfer everything over to the new app when it opens.
While the Common App is designed to help make the admissions process easier, it isn’t required when applying to college/university . There are other platforms available (such as the Coalition Application or the Universal Application) and most schools allow students to apply directly through their websites or unique application system.
Common App Cost
The Common App is free. However, some schools have their own application fee , so be sure to do your research before applying. Almost half of Common App member schools don’t charge an app fee, and others offer a fee waiver for those who qualify. Check out the ‘Application Requirements’ button on your Dashboard to see the fees for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list.
Common App Recommenders
The Common App also has its own recommenders platform for teachers, counselors, and other people you’ve asked to write a letter of recommendation. Applicants simply add the person and they get an invitation to complete the form. With Common App, you can ask your teacher, counselor, etc. to write one letter of recommendation , and send it to all the schools you’re applying to. Learn more in this Common App Recommender guide .
REMEMBER : Whether or not you need a recommendation letter depends on the individual school you’re applying to . The type of recommendation letter (e.g. counselor recommendation, teacher recommendation, other type of recommendation, etc.) also varies from school to school. Some schools require recommenders, others don’t, and for others it’s optional (you can check individual schools’ requirements on the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and click the ‘Application Requirements’ button).
We know that the Common App can seem overwhelming at first, so we’ve put together a list of FAQs about the Common App below .
Common App Components
When you use the Common App, you need to complete 2 main parts:
- Common App Common Questions & Personal Essays : Basic background information such as family, education, testing, activities, and courses/grades (if applicable). There are also personal essays, which can be found in the Writing section of the Common App. You will see 7 essay prompts, and you must choose ONE to write an essay of maximum 650 words based on that. Here’s a list of the 2021-2022 personal essay prompts (keep reading for a full breakdown and essay examples for all the prompts).
- College-Specific Questions and/or Writing Supplements : Some colleges will have their own specific questions, usually a short answer or essay. Click here for each college’s writing requirements . Similarly, some colleges will have a writing supplement that is not completed in the Common App profile. ALWAYS research each college to determine if they have an additional writing requirement.
Here are the 7 sections that make up the Common App Common Questions & Personal Essays section of your application (part #1 above):
- Profile : Personal information like your name, date of birth, address, contact details, demographics, language, nationality, etc.
- Family : Parent information, sibling information, etc.
- Education : Current high school, past schools, colleges/universities, grades, current/recent courses, future plans, etc.
- Testing : Standardized test scores, international applicant testing, etc. For more information on this section, check out this page .
- Activities : Discussing relevant (up to 10) extracurriculars, like arts, clubs, community engagement, hobbies, work/volunteering etc. (keep reading for a template and example for the Common App Activities List ).
- (a) Personal Essay , answering ONE of the 7 prompts (keep reading for breakdowns, templates, and examples for each);
- (b) Additional Information, where you discuss any impacts of community disruptions and how it has impacted you.
- Courses and Grades : List courses and the grades you received for each. Note that not all colleges require this list (you can check if it is required in the My Colleges tab of the app).
REMEMBER : As mentioned above, each college/university has their own requirements in addition to the Common App (usually an extra set of questions or an additional application or a writing supplemental). Make sure you do your research and complete all components of the application for each school you’re applying to. Keep track of all the requirements for each college/university you’re applying to here .
We know that this process can seem really overwhelming and stressful. Just remember — you don’t have to go through this alone! Our Youth Coaches™ have helped hundreds of students complete and submit the Common App and get into their top choice schools. Connect with a coach now for support.
Ace your Common App & Personal Essay.
Common App Expert and Youth Coach™
2022-2023 Common Application Essay Prompts & Examples
In this section, we’ll go through all the Common App Essays prompts and provide breakdowns, templates, and examples for each question.
REMEMBER : You only need to write ONE ESSAY that’s 650 words (and no less than 250 words). The essay prompts for the 2022-2023 Common App can be found here .
Common App Essay Prompts – Overview
Here are the instructions for all of the 2022-2023 Common App essay prompts:
The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. (The application won’t accept a response shorter than 250 words.)
The Common App Personal Essays allow app reviewers to get to know you on a deeper, more personal level beyond your courses, grades and test scores.
Your essay is are your one chance to make a personal connection with the reviewers and showcase your interests, skills, experiences, and plans for the future.
Put simply, the Personal Essay allows you to show what makes you, you . It’s arguably the most important part of your application.
A unique and memorable essay can help your application stand out. It should also be specific enough that it paints an accurate picture of who you are , while also appealing to all the schools you’re applying to (even if you’re applying for different programs or specializations).
A great way to show exactly who you are while connecting with a bunch of different audiences is through storytelling . This will help you write a memorable essay about all sorts of topics, while creating an emotional connection through character development , deep personal insights , and learning outcomes .
We recommend using our Narrative Communication Approach. This effective structure uses storytelling to connect emotionally with the reader and effectively communicate your interests, skills, goals, and experiences. Learn more about it our Narrative Communication™ blog here .
We know that this essay can seem really overwhelming at first. But remember — you aren’t alone! Youthfully Coaches have helped hundreds of students ace their Common App and achieve more than they ever thought possible. Connect with a coach now for support with your application and Personal Essay.
Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: 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.
Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 1
This question asks you to talk about that one thing that makes you unique .
The question is intentionally left open-ended so you can choose any aspect of your life that makes you completely different from anyone else. It can be anything from a hobby, academic interest, personal passion, or favorite pastime, to a formative experience or event in your life or an extracurricular activity you’ve been doing for years.
When choosing what to discuss, take time to think about something that is so meaningful that it’s inseparable from who you are as a person. Maybe you have been playing tennis since you were 5 years old and you’re now a pro, or you immigrated to the US and were so inspired by your parents’ successful small business that you started your own. Or maybe you went on a trip when you were younger and this ignited your love of studying other cultures and languages. Focus on that defining thing that makes you who you are.
Once you’ve decided what you want to discuss, communicate how this background, identity, interest, or talent has fundamentally influenced you and changed you as a person. Highlight your personality using this topic, and focus on showcasing what’s important to you , as well as your interests, skills, and goals wherever possible.
Use storytelling to discuss the evolution of this meaningful thing, like how it started, how it has changed over time, what it has meant in your life etc., while giving enough detail that the reader can go on the journey with you and connect with you emotionally (check out the template below and learn how to create the perfect story using this 5-step process ).
The key is to make the app reviewer feel what you feel so they can understand the significance of the background, identity, interest, or talent you’re talking about. The goal is to make them care about it just as much as you do .
No matter what meaningful aspect of your life you choose, the point is that you show the admissions committee that you have self-awareness and can identify your interest, skills, and strengths. They want to see that you have gone on a journey of personal growth that has led you to where you are today (and that it will help you as you continue on to post-secondary studies). If you’ve completed our Student Identity Blueprint , you already know how your experiences, interests, talents, background and identity makes you unique, so this will help you out a lot for this essay prompt. If you haven’t completed your Blueprint, connect with a coach to get started.
Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 1
Get started on your template here (Click File > Make a Copy and save it to your computer).
As mentioned above, all the templates and examples in this App Prep Guide follow our Narrative Communication Approach™. This structure uses storytelling to create an emotional connection with the reader, while showcasing character development, deep learning outcomes, and personal insight. The result? Truly unique, authentic, and memorable essays. Check out our Narrative Communication Approach Guide to learn more.
Your essay should have these 5 components to help make it unique and memorable:
- State the background, identity, interest, or talent that is an inseparable part of who you are.
- State the background, identity, interest, or talent that is an inseparable part of who you are. Provide some details about where it began and what you felt when it did. Was there a specific event or sudden realization that occurred? An evolution over time?
- Discuss how you developed your background, identity, interest, or talent over time, as well as how it became an inseparable part of who you are. Talk about what you would be if this one thing didn’t exist and talk about how it set you on the path to self-discovery.
- Discuss how it has impacted your life, drawing on experiences wherever possible. Provide examples of how you’ve put your background, identity, interest, or talent into practice in your daily life and how it has evolved or changed over time.
- Discuss what you’ve learned about yourself because of this background, identity, interest, or talent. Try to make your learning outcomes as unique as possible. Then, briefly state how this background, identity, interest, or talent will impact your goals and aspirations going forward.
If you need support finding a topic and writing an essay for this 2022-2023 Common App essay prompt, connect with a coach for support .
Common App Essay Example: Prompt 1
Here’s a Common App essay prompt example for this question.
REMEMBER : This is an EXAMPLE ONLY and is NOT meant for you to copy. Why? First and foremost, this is plagiarism and is a serious offense . Plagiarizing these essays will result in immediate disqualification from the admissions process . This can be easily detected using technology and application reviewers are usually trained and/or able to spot when an application isn’t original and does not align with an applicant’s background, personality, values, etc.
Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: 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?
Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 2
You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle themselves during difficult situations and when something doesn’t go as planned.
The obstacle you talk about in this essay can be a specific event from your personal or academic life, or it can be more broad, like a challenge you continually face , like a fear of public speaking, or a sudden realization , like figuring out you didn’t want to follow the plans your parents had for your future.
The app reviewers don’t care so much about the exact obstacle that happened. What’s really important is how you react, how you face adversity , and how you use your problem solving skills to find a solution. They want to know what this obstacle or challenge taught you, how you used this as an opportunity for personal growth and learning , and how this ultimately made you a better person and student.
When writing your story, make sure you describe your emotions as much as you can. You want the app reviewers to go on this journey with you and understand how you felt when this obstacle or challenge happened, and then how you felt when you overcame it and used it as an opportunity for growth . Write your story in a way that the reader walks in your shoes.
Finally, reflect on why this obstacle was so influential in your life and how these lessons have made you better. Did it make you discover something about yourself that you didn’t know? Did it ignite an interest that set you on a new path? Did you develop key real-world skills when trying to solve it? Then, wrap up by discussing how you will use the lessons from this challenge as you set and achieve your goals in the future.
If you aren’t sure which challenge, setback, or failure to talk about in your essay, connect with a coach anytime for support.
Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 2
Your essay should have these 5 components to help make your story unique and memorable:
- Capture the reader’s attention and give a preview of what’s to come.
- Provide some background about yourself and discuss who you were and what you believed in before this obstacle occurred. State what the obstacle (challenge, setback, or failure) was. Paint the picture of the situation you were in, focusing on the emotions you felt when this obstacle occurred as well as your initial reaction.
- Talk about the turning point, addressing how you faced the obstacle and what you did to resolve it. Discuss any trial and error moments that occured. Go through your journey to solve this problem.
- Outline how this obstacle turned out in the end (either positive or negative). If possible, talk about quantifiable outcomes, such as hours worked/volunteered, money raised, people impacted, etc.
- Discuss what you learned because of this obstacle. Why was this lesson important? How did it change you as a person? Finally, briefly talk about how you will use this lesson going forward and how it has already (and will contribute) to your success (personally, professionally, and academically).
Common App Essay Example: Prompt 2
REMEMBER : This is an EXAMPLE ONLY and is NOT meant for you to copy.
Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 3
Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 3
This essay prompt is definitely one of the harder ones out of the 7.
The app reviewers want to see that you can think critically and use logic and the evidence you have to form opinions for yourself (rather than being influenced and coerced by others).
They also want to see that you’re willing to adapt and change your views as you learn more about yourself and experience the world.
The belief or idea that you discuss doesn’t have to be extremely complex, like the meaning of life. It can be something as simple as you believing that it’s too risky to try something outside of your comfort zone or that you have to follow in the same footsteps as your parents. The important thing is that this belief or idea is something that you believed was true for a long time, until something happened that changed your outlook and allowed you to evolve as a person. If you’re having trouble coming up with a belief or idea to discuss, have a look at the Values section of your Student Identity Blueprint ™ (if you haven’t filled out your Blueprint yet, click here to get started ).
COACH’S TIP : While topics like religion, politics, race, and other social issues are popular topics of discussion, avoid talking about these topics in your essay. Everyone has strong beliefs about these topics, and the last thing you want to do is offend anyone or start an argument. Choose topics that are more unique to your life , experiences, skills, and interests, and NOT broad, touchy subjects .
Also, while you want to effectively communicate your belief/idea before and after you challenged or questioned it, you don’t want to come across as too preachy or difficult. Everyone has their own beliefs, and if you seem completely unaccepting of others’ views, then this will actually hurt your chances of getting into the schools you’re applying to.
Instead, focus on what the experience taught you and how you evolved as a person . Create a story that emphasizes the emotions you felt when this event happened, and how you invited the opportunity for growth and change .
The most important aspect of this essay is talking about what you learned because you were willing to go beyond what you believe or what you were taught, and how accepting new perspectives actually made you a stronger person both now and in the future.
Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 3
- State the belief or idea you challenged or questioned. Where did this belief come from? Why did you believe it to be true? Be as specific as possible, painting the ‘before’ picture (i.e. before the event that made you question it occurred).
- Discuss what made you question or challenge this belief. This can be a specific event, discussion you had with someone, a gradual change over time, etc. Explain why this caused so much doubt to happen, and what your initial reaction to this doubt was (explaining the emotion you felt wherever possible).
- Talk about your changing views on this belief or idea after the event you discussed in the Catalyst section (this is the ‘after’ picture you discussed in the Context section). If your old belief/idea was replaced with a new belief/idea, briefly explain what the new one is here.
- Talk about what you learned by challenging this belief/opinion and how it changed your outlook going forward. Provide some learning outcomes about how it impacted you personally, academically, and/or professionally.
If you need support finding a topic and writing an essay for this 2022-2023 Common App prompt, connect with a coach for support .
Common App Essay Example: Prompt 3
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Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 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?
Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 4
This question is a bit newer than the others, first appearing in the 2021-2022 Common App.
The theme of this prompt is gratitude — for being inspired, being put outside your comfort zone, learning something new, and getting excited about your future.
The focus of this essay isn’t gushing about how amazing the person who did something for you is, and how nice they are for doing it. Just explain who the person is and what the act of kindness was.
Instead, the app reviews want a personal story that communicates how this act of kindness initiated personal growth and self-discovery , as well as how and why it was so unexpected. Spend time thinking outside of the box and make the act as unique as possible. Go beyond saying someone was your mentor or helped you with a school project, and use an act of kindness that had a long-lasting impact .
A key phrase in this prompt that students often overlook is “in a surprising way” . While the experience doesn’t have to be huge, what’s important is the impact it had on you (as well as the emotions you felt as it was happening).
This can be something you learned that made you change your outlook on life, ignited your passion for something, or set you on the path you’re on now. This act of kindness should have a long lasting effect on your life and fundamentally change you in some way.
COACH’S TIP : Your topic also doesn’t have to be positive — someone could have done something that seemed negative at the time, but actually turned out for the better in the end (keep reading to see the example). This would be a great way to bring in the ‘surprise’ element of this question.
Finally, when talking about how this act of kindness affected you, try to draw out personal details about yourself as much as possible.
Here’s an example: A mentor got you a summer internship at your local hospital and this surprised you because you realized that medicine wasn’t for you, even though it’s what your parents expected when they immigrated from China. Then, you decided to pursue your passion for business and start your own non-profit organization so that you could support cancer research because you lost your grandfather to this disease. You were so grateful that this happened because you got to go outside of your comfort zone and combine your love of business and philanthropy. At the same time, you can see all the personal details here — it tells who the you are (from China, in a family of doctors) and your interests (philanthropy), as well as some explanation of your experiences (internships, starting a non-profit) and your skills (leadership, organization, time management).
Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 4
- Give some background about you, like who were before this act of kindness occurred. Imagine this as the ‘before’ scenario.
- Briefly discuss the thing that someone did for you (and who did the action), answering the 5Ws (who, what, when, where, why).
- Describe what happened as a result of this act of kindness. Tap into your emotions as much as possible (maybe you were surprised, hesitant, etc. when it happened).
- Answer where you’d be if this event hadn’t occurred, and then discuss why you’re so grateful that it did. Talk about the impact of this event, emphasizing why it was so significant in your life, like that you learned about yourself or how it inspired you to explore a new interest. Finally, explain how you will use these lessons going forward (especially in your post-secondary studies).
Common App Essay Example: Prompt 4
Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 5
Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 5
In the other sections of your Common App, you’ve already given the app reviewers a pretty clear picture of what you’ve done, like your grades, courses, extracurriculars, other experiences, etc.
This question is your chance to talk about how this accomplishment, event, or realization has influenced you and made you the person you are today. Remember that these formative events aren’t always obvious — you might not have even realized it was happening!
When thinking about what accomplishment, event, or realization you want to talk about, think about who you are now, asking questions like:
- What’s important to me and why?
- What do I genuinely enjoy doing?
- What am I good at? What could I improve on?
- Who is most important in my life?
- What am I proud of?
- Have I changed over the last few years? If so, how?
Once you’ve answered these questions, think about that specific thing which initiated it and where it all began. This is the accomplishment, event, or realization that you should focus on in your essay.
COACH’S TIP : According to Common App, this is the second most popular essay prompt that 23.7% of students answered for the 2021-2022 Common App. To make sure your essay stands out from the crowd, choose a topic that is unique and isn’t overdone, like the death of a family member, a trip somewhere, or an injury. Think outside the box and come up with an accomplishment, event, or realization that’s unexpected. If you are discussing something a bit more common, try to make your learning outcomes as unique as possible.
Once you’ve narrowed down your topic, focus the majority of the essay on 2-3 learning outcomes that allowed you to grow personally, academically, and professionally.
These learning outcomes should be centered around a common theme, while focusing inward on you as a person along with the growth of your interests, skills, goals, and more. Next, turn the focus outward and talk about how this growth has changed how you interact with others and view the world around you. Emphasize how this has changed how you view and interact with the world and how it has impacted your life for the better.
Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 5
Your essay should have these 5 components :
- Provide some background info about you, like who were before this accomplishment, event, or realization occurred, and exactly where you were in life. Imagine this as the ‘before’ scenario.
- Introduce the accomplishment, event, or realization that occurred and give some details about what happened. Explain what it was about this experience that made it such a good opportunity for growth and learning.
- Discuss what kind of growth and/or change this accomplishment, event, or realization initiated, and who you became during and after it happened (this is the ‘after’ picture you introduced in the Context section). Emphasize your emotions as much as possible as you discuss your growth and change (e.g. were you afraid? Hesitant? Excited? Inspired?)
- Provide some details about what you learned about yourself and others because of this accomplishment, event, or realization. Focus on 1-2 deep learning outcomes that go beyond the surface level, and emphasize how you will apply what you learned both now and in the future.
Common App Essay Example: Prompt 5
Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 6
Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 6
This essay prompt asks you to take any topic (simple or complex) and explain why it fascinates you.
The possibilities for the subject of the essay are endless — it can be anything from a hobby you’re obsessed with, like surfing to fixing up old cars, to a theory you learned in science class, like evolution, or a question you always think about, like whether there’s life on other planets.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with this question. You can take a seemingly simple topic and use your creativity to make it unique and interesting .
The point of this question is to show the reviewers who you are, what your thought processes are, what you’re interested in, what you enjoy doing, and more. The important thing isn’t so much as what you are so engaged with, but why it’s so engaging.
To communicate why this topic, concept, or idea is so engaging to you, you should use storytelling to paint a clear picture of where this interest started, how it evolved, and how it has impacted your life so much. Be as descriptive as possible when you explain the topic, concept, or idea. Imagine that you’re trying to explain this topic to a friend or family member and you want to get them as excited about it as you are by using detail and emotion .
The final part of this essay is showing how you have evolved your exploration of this topic, concept, or idea over time. You want to show that you are open to continual learning as well as new perspectives and ideas. Emphasize how your interest in this topic has changed over time and how that has fuelled your interest in it even more.
Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 6
- Introduce your topic, idea, or concept, giving some helpful background information so the reviewers understand exactly what you’re talking about (What is it?; When did it start?; What’s so special about it?, Etc.). Discuss when you first became interested in this topic, idea, or concept, and what was so special about it that captivated all your time and energy.
- Discuss a turning point when the topic, concept, or idea began to change your life, and how this set you on a journey of self-discovery.
- Explain how your interest in this topic, idea, or concept has grown over time and how it influences you in your daily life. Talk about how you continue to explore this topic in your life and your interactions with others.
- Discuss what your exploration of this topic, concept, or idea has taught you and how it has changed you as a person. Think about who you’d be if you hadn’t become engaged in it, and how it has impacted your personal and academic life. Wrap up the essay but stating how you will continue to explore and engage with this topic, concept, or idea in the future.
Common App Essay Example: Prompt 6
Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: 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.
Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 7
This is the most popular Common App essay prompt, with 24.1% of students choosing it on the 2021-2022 Common App.
This question is probably the most popular because it allows you to use an essay you’ve already written — meaning you have to do less work. Don’t be fooled though, the app reviewers know this , so they’ll likely evaluate the essay a bit harder.
We highly recommend that you stick with one of the other prompts if you can.
Why? The Common App essay prompts are designed to allow you to show your personality, identity, interests, skills, and goals through storytelling. They give the app reviewers the chance to understand what makes you unique as well the lessons and experiences you’ve had so far.
Each prompt targets a different aspect of your life and personality.
The takeaway is that the essay you already have prepared probably wasn’t written with the same goals as the Common App essays ask of students. You might have written it for a class or in your spare time, and while it might show glimpses of who you are, it’s possible that it completely misses the mark. If this is the case, the app reviewers won’t understand you fully and get a clear picture of you beyond your grades and extracurriculars, and this could hurt your chances of acceptance.
If you do have an essay you are thinking about using for this section, we recommend that you connect with a coach to make sure it has all the components that the app reviewers are looking for.
Get into the college of your dreams.
Common App FAQs
You asked, and we answered!
Here are the most frequently asked questions about the Common App .
- What is Common App used for?
Common App is a free application tool that’s designed to simplify the application process for first year and transfer students as they apply and get into college.
With the Common App, you only need to complete one application for multiple colleges and universities (Common App has more than 900 member colleges/universities around the world).
When you create your account, you can complete your application, keep track of college-specific requirements, fees, deadlines, etc. as well as sending requests for recommenders and financial aid.
The Common App makes the process much easier by having everything you need for your applications, all in one place .
Who uses Common App?
The Common App is used by first-year students (both domestic and international) as well as transfer students (and their recommenders ) to apply to over 900 member colleges and universities around the world.
How does the Common App work?
Applicants create a Common App account and then fill out one application that can be sent to up to 20 colleges and/or universities .
Each application includes 7 sections : Profile, Family, Education, Testing, Writing (Personal Essay and Additional Information), and Courses and Grades ( see the section above for a full breakdown of each ).
Once you submit the Common App (and any other college-specific requirements like writing supplements or recommendations), each college/university assesses the application individually and makes their admission decision.
When do I apply for Common App?
The 2022-2023 Common App opens on August 1, 2022 .
You must submit the Common Application before the deadline of the college/university you’re applying to (and whether you are applying for early admission or regular admission).
You can search for each school’s app deadlines by going to the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and clicking the ‘Application Requirements’ button to see the requirements for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list.
Is the Common App required when applying to college?
The Common App is designed to help make the admissions process easier, but it isn’t required when applying to college and/or university .
There are other platforms available (such as the Coalition Application or the Universal Application) and most schools allow students to apply directly through their websites or unique application system.
Check the requirements of the specific program you’re applying to and make sure you have all the application requirements covered.
Is the Common App worth it?
You might be wondering exactly why colleges and universities ask prospective students to complete the Common App. Trust us, it’s definitely worth the time .
Why? Apart from making the process easier by requiring one application for all the schools you’re applying to (plus any additional requirements or writing supplements), the Common App allows app reviewers to get to know you on a deeper, more personal level beyond your courses, grades and test scores.
If you spend the time writing a unique and memorable Common App, you can make your application more competitive and increase your chances of getting into your top choice college/university — and your future is definitely worth the extra effort !
How long do Common Apps take?
While there’s no exact amount of time to complete the Common App, you should give yourself about 4 weeks for the whole process (brainstorm, write, proofread, final review, and submit).
This is definitely an application you do not want to rush! Take your time and we promise it will pay off.
How many schools can you apply to on Common App?
Common App allows students to add up to 20 colleges from one account.
Do all colleges use and accept the Common Application?
College App has over 900 partner colleges and universities around the world, including 60+ international universities and 250+ public colleges and universities.
Not all colleges accept the Common Application. Around 600+ out of 2,400 colleges in the United States use Common App.
How much is the Common App?
Common App is free. However, each school has its own application fee , so be sure to do your research before applying.
Almost half of Common App member schools don’t charge an app fee , and others offer a fee waiver for those who qualify.
You can find each school’s application fee by going to the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and clicking the ‘Application Requirements’ button to see the requirements for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list.
Do I need a recommendation for all schools or just some?
Whether or not you need a recommendation letter depends on the individual school you’re applying to . The type of recommendation letter (e.g. counselor recommendation, teacher recommendation, other type of recommendation, etc.) also varies from school to school.
Some schools require a recommender, others don’t, and for others it’s optional.
You can ask your teacher, counselor, etc. to write one letter of recommendation , and you can send this same letter to all the schools you’re applying to.
Make sure you check each school’s requirements (go to the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and click the ‘Application Requirements’ button to see the requirements for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list).
How do I send a Common App recommendation?
Once you’ve created your Common App account, you can add recommenders to your application by clicking on the ‘My Colleges’ tab and then clicking on the name of the college on the left side of the page. There, you’ll see “Recommenders and FERPA” in the dropdown menu.
Then, sign the release form and click the “Invite Recommenders” button. Common App will email your recommender with instructions on how to complete their letter for you.
Invite a recommender for every school you want to send a letter to. The recommender’s letter will be sent directly to the school.
How do I submit the Common App?
Here’s a breakdown of how to complete your Common App, so you can make sure you don’t miss anything. If you have any questions about this process, connect with a coach anytime for support.
Step 1 : Create a Common App Account by clicking here . Then, select what type of applicant you are (first year, transfer, education professional, or parent) and insert your email, create a password, and then fill out the information it asks (name, birthday, etc.).
Step 2 : Once you log in, click on the ‘College Search’ tab at the top of the page and type in each college you plan on applying to. Click the + (add) button for each one. These will appear in the ‘My Colleges’ tab at the top of the page when you’re done. Explore colleges here .
At the top right corner of the ‘College Search’ page, you will see a button for ‘Application Requirements’. Here, you can type in each college you want to apply to, and then get a quick snapshot of the specific deadlines, fees, Common App requirements (like if you need a Personal Essay), standardized tests, etc. If you want a more detailed breakdown for each college, go to ‘My Colleges’ and click on the specific college you’re looking for.
Step 3 : When you’ve completed your college list, click on the ‘Common App’ tab and complete all this information (keep reading for a detailed breakdown of each section of the app).
Step 4 : Complete the Common App question, including the Personal Essay from the list of Common App essay prompts.
Step 5 : Check and see whether the colleges you’re applying to have any other writing requirements or supplements. If they do, make sure to complete those as well.
Step 6 : Review your entire application.
Step 7 : Pay the fee (if applicable) and submit the application.
REMEMBER : The above steps are for first year applicants . If you’re a transfer student, learn more about the application and how to submit it here . If you’re an international student, learn how to complete and submit your application here .
How many Common App essays are required for 2022-2023?
You must write an essay on ONE out of the 7 Common App essay prompts.
Before getting started on your essay, check out the essay prompts breakdowns, templates, and examples we provided earlier on in this guide to learn how to write a memorable and unique essay.
What Common App essay should I choose?
A lot of students ask our Youth Coaches which Common App essay they should write .
With 7 prompts, it can be super tough to choose, especially when there is more than one you know you could write a really strong essay for.
As a first step, we always tell our students to read through all the questions at once. Is there a question that sticks out to you right away? If not, go through each and make some quick bullet points under each one.
When thinking about what prompt to choose, ask yourself these questions:
- What aspects of my personality do I want to highlight in my application?
- What are the top 3 things I want to showcase about myself in this application? Which prompt can help me do that?
- What is the thing that makes me most unique? Which prompt will give me the chance to talk about this more and differentiate myself from other applicants?
- Will this question paint a clear picture of who I am, and my experiences, skills, values, and goals?
- Do I have a specific experience, interest, belief, hobby, etc. that fits in perfectly with one of the prompts?
- Have I learned something about myself recently that has changed my outlook on life? Which prompt will allow me to talk about this more?
- Is there something about myself that I feel I haven’t discussed enough in the other parts of my application? Which prompt will help me highlight that specific thing in my Personal Essay?
If you need help deciding which prompt to choose, remember that our Youth Coaches are always here to help !
Which Common App prompt is most popular?
According to Common App, 68.9% of students pick 1 of 3 Common App essay prompts .
The most popular is Prompt #7 (“Share an essay on any topic of your choice…”), with 24.1% of students choosing it on the 2021-2022 Common App.
Followed up Prompt #5 (“Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself and others”) with 23.7% . In third is 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?) with 21.1% of applicants picking it.
Prompt #7 is probably the most popular because it allows you to use an essay you’ve already written — meaning you have to do less work. Don’t be fooled though, the app reviewers know this , so they’ll probably evaluate the essay a bit harder.
But remember, just because these three prompts are the most popular DOESN’T mean you have to choose one of them.
In fact, if you can create a well written, unique, and compelling essay on one of the other 3 essay prompts , it might actually help your chances of standing out from almost 70% of applicants (and increase your chances of admission success ). Sometimes it pays to go against the crowd. 🙂
How long is the Common App essay?
The Common App essay has a limit of 650 words , and must be at least 250 words .
This isn’t very much space, so you should focus on being as clear and concise as possible and cut out repetitive or necessary sentences during the editing process. Check out our templates and examples above to help you write a memorable and unique essay.
Do Common App prompts change?
The Common App essay prompts are very similar year to year , except for a couple changes here and there.
For example, in the 2021-2022 Common App, there was only one prompt that changed from the 2020-2021 Common App (Prompt #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?”).
The 2022-2023 Common App essay prompts are the same as the 2021-2022 application.
How to complete the Common App activities section?
The Activities section of the Common App allows you to tell the app reviewers more about you beyond your courses and grades .
Here, you can discuss any activities you participate in outside of the classroom, like clubs, community involvement, hobbies, sports, work, volunteering, hobbies, and more.
These will all help give a better sense about what’s important to you , what you’re interested in , and how you’re building important skills like communication, teamwork, leadership, problem solving, etc.
You can include up to 10 activities in this section.
To complete the Common App activities section, go to the ‘Common App’ tab on your Dashboard, and click the ‘Activities’ section on the left side.
The form will ask: “Do you have any activities that you wish to report?”. Answer ‘Yes’.
You will be asked for the following information for each activity :
- Activity Type: Academic, Art, Career Oriented, etc. Choose the one that is most applicable to the specific activity.
- Position Description : List your role and responsibilities (max 50 characters)
- Organization Name (max 100 characters)
- Activity Description: Focus on quantifiable accomplishments, like awards you received, money earned, people you managed, hours worked, etc. (max 150 characters)
- Participation Grade Levels : From grades 9-12 or after you graduated high school
- Timing of Participation : When you took part in this activity (during the school year, during break, or all year).
- Hours spent per week
- Weeks spent per year
- Whether you intend to continue this activity in college
Here’s a template you can use for you Common App Activities List.
Here’s an example of what this section might look like:
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You’ve Got a Dedicated Coach in Your Corner
For over a decade, we have worked with thousands of students to help them achieve more than they ever thought possible.
Our coaches have a strong success rate supporting students as they complete the Common App and get into their top universities and colleges.
Our 1-on-1 Youth Coaching fills that gap that most high schools miss. We can help you build self-awareness through probing questions and assessments, set bigger goals to elevate your extracurriculars and future career plans, and improve skills that matter on supplementary applications, such as interviewing, written communication, critical thinking, and creativity.
We use a coaching methodology, called ‘full student’ development, that’s been proven to increase your chances of admission to top-tier universities and obtaining competitive jobs/internships.
So, what are you waiting for? Fulfill your post-secondary potential with the mentorship and coaching you’ve always wanted!
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Common App - Overview
- What is Common App?
- App Components
Essay Prompts & Examples
- Prompt 1 - Unique Identity
- Prompt 2 - Conflict & Setbacks
- Prompt 3 - Challenge a Belief
- Prompt 4 - Act of Kindness
- Prompt 5 - Personal Growth
- Prompt 6 - Captivating Topic
- Prompt 7 - Other Essay
- Who uses it?
- How does it work?
- When do I apply?
- Is it required when applying to college?
- Is it worth it?
- How long does it take?
- How many schools can I apply for?
- Do all colleges use and accept it?
- How much is it?
- Do I need recommendations?
- How do I send recommendations?
- How do I submit it?
- How many essays do I have to write?
- Which essay prompt do I choose?
- Which prompt is most popular?
- How long is the essay?
- Do prompts change?
- How to complete the Activities section?
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20 great example essays for the common app essay prompts, “some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it…”, in fourth grade, i had a dream, my generation is the first generation of peace, i’m not about to apologize, “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…”, i want to show the world what i can do, “reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea…”, the flipped classroom, “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…”, traffic is dysfunctional, 150 great articles and essays, 40 great nonfiction writers, mentor texts for ap english, essays to compare and contrast.
“Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others…”
What newsweek taught me by yehong zu, why wasn’t it me, mega frizzy and tangled by andie macdonald, change is only natural by my-ngoc to, “describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time…”, the colour of passion, “share an essay on any topic of your choice…”, why i, a heterosexual teenage boy, want to see more men in speedos by noah spencer, the missing anthropological exhibit by alec farber, the asian misnomer by matteo wong, stopping bullets with locked doors and silence by daina kalnina, reform the prison, then the prisoner by katherine leonard, in nothing we trust by francesca kelley, subscribe to our email newsletter.
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Common App Essays | 7 Strong Examples with Commentary
Published on November 19, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on November 4, 2022.
If you’re applying for college via the Common App , you’ll have to write an essay in response to one of seven prompts.
Table of contents
What is the common application essay, prompt 1: background, identity, interest, or talent, prompt 2: overcoming challenges, prompt 3: questioning a belief or idea, prompt 4: appreciating an influential person, prompt 5: transformative event, prompt 6: interest or hobby that inspires learning, prompt 7: free topic, frequently asked questions about college application essays.
The Common Application, or Common App , is a college application portal that is accepted by more than 900 schools.
Within the Common App is your main essay, a primary writing sample that all your prospective schools will read to evaluate your critical thinking skills and value as a student. Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any college names or programs. Instead, save tailored answers for the supplementary school-specific essays within the Common App.
Regardless of your prompt choice, admissions officers will look for an ability to clearly and creatively communicate your ideas based on the selected prompt.
We’ve provided seven essay examples, one for each of the Common App prompts. After each essay, we’ve provided a table with commentary on the essay’s narrative, writing style and tone, demonstrated traits, and self-reflection.
This essay explores the student’s emotional journey toward overcoming her father’s neglect through gymnastics discipline.
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.
When “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” began to play, it was my signal to lay out a winning floor routine. Round off. Back handspring. Double back layout. Stick!
Instead, I jolted off the floor, landing out of bounds. Over the past week, I hadn’t landed that pass once, and regionals were only seven days away. I heaved a heavy sigh and stomped over to the bench.
Coach Farkas saw my consternation. “Mona, get out of your head. You’re way too preoccupied with your tumbling passes. You could do them in your sleep!”
That was the problem. I was dreaming of tumbling and missing my landings, waking up in a cold sweat. The stress felt overwhelming.
“Stretch out. You’re done for tonight.”
I walked home from the gym that had been my second home since fourth grade. Yet my anxiety was increasing every time I practiced.
I startled my mom. “You’re home early! Wait! You walked? Mona, what’s going on?!”
I slumped down at the kitchen table. “Don’t know.”
She sat down across from me. “Does it have anything to do with your father texting you a couple of weeks ago about coming to see you at regionals?”
“So what?! Why does it matter anymore?” He walked out when I was 10 and never looked back. Still, dear ol’ Dad always had a way of resurfacing when I least expected him.
“It still matters because when you hear from him, you tend to crumble. Or have you not noticed?” She offered a knowing wink and a compassionate smile.
I started gymnastics right after Dad left. The coaches said I was a natural: short, muscular, and flexible. All I knew was that the more I improved, the more confident I felt. Gymnastics made me feel powerful, so I gave it my full energy and dedication.
The floor routine became my specialty, and my performances were soon elevating our team score. The mat, solid and stable, became a place to explore and express my internal struggles. Over the years, no matter how angry I felt, the floor mat was there to absorb my frustration.
The bars, beam, and vault were less forgiving because I knew I could fall. My performances in those events were respectable. But, the floor? Sometimes, I had wildly creative and beautiful routines, while other times were disastrous. Sadly, my floor routine had never been consistent.
That Saturday afternoon, I slipped into the empty gym and walked over to the mat. I sat down and touched its carpeted surface. After a few minutes, my cheeks were wet with the bitter disappointment of a dad who only showed up when it was convenient for him. I ruminated on the years of practices and meets where I had channeled my resentment into acrobatics and dance moves, resolved to rise higher than his indifference.
I saw then that my deepest wounds were inextricably entangled with my greatest passion. They needed to be permanently separated. While my anger had first served to launch me into gymnastics, before long, I had started serving my anger.
Anger is a cruel master. It corrupts everything it touches, even something as beautiful as a well-choreographed floor routine.
I changed my music days before regionals. “The Devil” no longer had a place in my routine. Instead, I chose an energetic cyberpunk soundtrack that inspired me to perform with passion and laser focus. Dad made an obligatory appearance at regionals, but he left before I could talk to him.
It didn’t matter this time. I stuck every landing in my routine. Anger no longer controlled me. I was finally free.
Word count: 601
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This essay shows how the challenges the student faced in caring for her sister with autism resulted in an unexpected path forward in her education.
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?
I never had a choice.
My baby sister was born severely autistic, which meant that every detail of our home life was repeatedly adjusted to manage her condition. I couldn’t go to bed without fearing that Mindy would wake up screaming with that hoarse little voice of hers. I couldn’t have friends over on weekends because we never knew if our entire family would need to shift into crisis mode to help Mindy regain control.
We couldn’t take a family vacation because Mindy would start hitting us during a long car ride when she didn’t want to sit there anymore. We couldn’t even celebrate Christmas like a normal family because Mindy would shriek and run away when we tried to give her presents.
I was five years old when Mindy was born. For the first ten years, I did everything I could to help my mom with Mindy. But Mom was depressed and would often stare out the window, as if transfixed by the view. Dad was no help either. He used his job as an excuse to be away from home. So, I tried to make up for both of them and rescue Mindy however I could whenever she needed it.
However, one day, when I was slowly driving Mindy around with the windows down, trying to lull her into a calmer state, we passed two of my former classmates from middle school. They heard Mindy growling her disapproval as the ride was getting long for her. One of them turned to the other and announced, “Oh my God! Marabeth brought her pet monster out for a drive!” They laughed hysterically and ran down the street.
After that day, I defied my parents at every turn. I also ignored Mindy. I even stopped doing homework. I purposely “got in with the wrong crowd” and did whatever they did.
My high school counselor Ms. Martinez saw through it all. She knew my family’s situation well. It didn’t take her long to guess what had probably happened.
“Marabeth, I get it. My brother has Down syndrome. It was really hard growing up with him as a brother. The other kids were pretty mean about it, especially in high school.”
I doubted she understood. “Yeah. So?”
“I’m guessing something happened that hurt or embarrassed you.”
“I’m so sorry. I can only imagine how you must have felt.”
It must have been the way she said it because I suddenly found myself sobbing into my trembling, cupped hands.
Ms. Martinez and I met every Friday after that for the rest of the year. Her stories of how she struggled to embrace living with and loving her brother created a bridge to my pain and then my healing. She explained that her challenges led her to pursue a degree in counseling so that she could offer other people what no one had given her.
I thought that Mindy was the end of my life, but, because of Ms. Martinez’s example and kindness, I can now see that Mindy is a gift, pointing me toward my future.
Now, I’m applying to study psychology so that I can go on to earn my master’s degree in counseling. I’m learning to forgive my parents for their mistakes, and I’m back in Mindy’s life again, but this time as a sister, not a savior. My choice.
Word Count: 553
This essay illustrates a student’s courage in challenging his culture’s constructs of manhood and changing his course while positively affecting his father in the process.
Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
“No son of mine is gonna march around a football field wearing tail feathers while all the real men are playing football!”
I took a step backward and tried not to appear as off-balance as I felt. In my excitement, I had blurted out more information than my father could handle:
“Dad! I made the marching band as a freshman! Nobody does that—I mean nobody!”
As soon as I had said it, I wished I could recall those words. How could I forget that 26 years earlier, he had been the starting wide receiver for the state-champion Tigers on the same field?!
Still, when I opened the email on that scorching hot August afternoon, I was thrilled that five months of practicing every possible major and harmonic minor scale—two octaves up and two octaves down—had made the difference. I had busted reed after reed, trying not to puff my cheeks while moving my fingers in a precise cadence.
I knew he had heard me continually practicing in my room, yet he seemed to ignore all the parts of me that were incongruous with his vision of manhood:
Ford F-150 4x4s. Pheasant hunting. The Nebraska Cornhuskers.
I never had to wonder what he valued. For years, I genuinely shared his interests. But, in the fall of eighth grade, I heard Kyle Wheeling play a saxophone solo during the homecoming marching band halftime show. My dad took me to every football game to teach me the plays, but that night, all I could think about was Kyle’s bluesy improv at halftime.
During Thanksgiving break, I got my mom to drive me into Omaha to rent my instrument at Dietze Music, and, soon after, I started private lessons with Mr. Ken. Before long, I was spending hours in my room, exploring each nuance of my shiny Yamaha alto sax, anticipating my audition for the Marching Tigers at the end of the spring semester.
During those months of practice, I realized that I couldn’t hide my newfound interest forever, especially not from the football players who were going to endlessly taunt me. But not all the guys played football. Some were in choir and theater. Quite a few guys were in the marching band. In fact, the Marching Tigers had won the grand prize in their division at last year’s state showdown in Lincoln.
I was excited! They were the champions, and I was about to become a part of their legacy.
Yet, that afternoon, a sense of anxiety brewed in my belly. I knew I had to talk to him.
He was sweeping the grass clippings off of the sidewalk. He nodded.
“I need to tell you something.”
He looked up.
“I know that you know about my sax because you hear me practicing. I like it a lot, and I’m becoming pretty good at it. I still care about what you like, but I’m starting to like some other things more. I hope you’ll be proud of me whatever I choose.”
He studied the cracks in the driveway. “I am proud of you. I just figured you’d play football.”
We never talked about it again, but that fall, he was in the stands when our marching band won the state championship in Lincoln for the second time. In fact, for the next four years, he never left the stands during halftime until the marching band had performed. He was even in the audience for every performance of “Our Town” at the end of my junior year. I played the Stage Manager who reveals the show’s theme: everything changes gradually.
I know it’s true. Things do change over time, even out here in central Nebraska. I know because I’ve changed, and my dad has changed, too. I just needed the courage to go first.
Word count: 626
The student demonstrates how his teacher giving him an unexpected bad grade was the catalyst for his becoming a better writer.
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?
I stared in disbelief at the big red letter at the top of my paper: D.
Never in my entire high school career had I seen that letter at the top of any paper, unless it was at the beginning of my first name.
I had a 4.796 GPA. I had taken every pre-AP and AP course offered. My teachers had praised my writing skills! However, Mr. Trimble didn’t think so, and he let me know it:
“Darwin, in the future, I believe you can do better if you fully apply yourself.”
I furiously scanned the paper for corrections. Not even one! Grammar and syntax? Perfect. Spelling? Impeccable. Sentence and paragraph structure? Precise and indisputable, as always.
Was he trying to ruin my GPA? Cooper was clearly his favorite, and we were neck and neck for valedictorian, which was only one year away. Maybe they were conspiring to take me down.
Thankfully, AP Composition was my last class. I fled the room and ran to my car. Defiant tears stained my cheeks as I screeched my tires and roared out of the parking lot. When I got home, I shoved in my AirPods, flopped on my bed, and buried my head under the pillow.
I awoke to my sister, Daria, gently shaking my arm. “I know what happened, D. Trimble stopped me in the hall after school.”
“I’m sure he did. He’s trying to ruin my life.”
“That’s not what he told me. You should talk to him, D.”
The next day, although I tried to avoid Mr. Trimble at all costs, I almost tripped over him as I was coming out of the bathroom.
“Darwin, can we talk?”
He walked me down the hall to his room. “Do you know that you’re one of the best writers I’ve ever had in AP Comp?”
“Then why’d you do it?”
“Because you’re better than you know, Darwin. You impress with your perfect presentations, and your teachers reward you with A’s and praise. I do frequent the teacher’s lounge, you know.”
“So I know you’re not trying.”
I locked eyes with him and glared.
“You’ve never had to try because you have a gift. And, in the midst of the acclaim, you’ve never pushed yourself to discover your true capabilities.”
“So you give me a D?!”
“It got your attention.”
“You’re not going to leave it, are you?”
“Oh, the D stands. You didn’t apply yourself. You’ll have to earn your way out with your other papers.”
I gained a new understanding of the meaning of ambivalence. Part of me was furious at the injustice of the situation, but I also felt strangely challenged and intrigued. I joined a local writer’s co-op and studied K. M. Weiland’s artistic writing techniques.
Multiple drafts, track changes, and constructive criticism became my new world. I stopped taking Mr. Trimble’s criticism personally and began to see it as a precious tool to bolster me, not break me down.
Last week, the New York Public Library notified me that I was named one of five finalists for the Young Lions Fiction Award. They described my collection of short stories as “fresh, imaginative, and captivating.”
I never thought I could be grateful for a D, but Mr. Trimble’s insightful courage was the catalyst that transformed my writing and my character. Just because other people applaud you for being the best doesn’t mean you’re doing your best .
AP Composition is now recorded as an A on my high school transcript, and Cooper and I are still locked in a tight race for the finish line. But, thanks to Mr. Trimble, I have developed a different paradigm for evaluation: my best. And the more I apply myself, the better my best becomes.
Word Count: 627
This student narrates how she initially went to church for a boy but instead ended up confronting her selfishness by helping others.
Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
Originally, I went to church not because I was searching for Jesus but because I liked a boy.
Isaac Ono wasn’t the most athletic boy in our class, nor was he the cutest. But I was amazed by his unusual kindness toward everyone. If someone was alone or left out, he’d walk up to them and say hello or invite them to hang out with him and his friends.
I started waking up at 7:30 a.m. every Sunday morning to attend Grace Hills Presbyterian, where Isaac’s father was the pastor. I would strategically sit in a pew not too close but close enough to Isaac that when the entire congregation was instructed to say “Peace be with you,” I could “happen” to shake Isaac’s hand and make small talk.
One service, as I was staring at the back of Isaac’s head, pondering what to say to him, my hearing suddenly tuned in to his father’s sermon.
“There’s no such thing as a good or bad person.”
My eyes snapped onto Pastor Marcus.
“I used to think I was a good person who came from a respectable family and did nice things. But people aren’t inherently good or bad. They just make good or bad choices.”
My mind raced through a mental checklist of whether my past actions fell mostly into the former or latter category.
“As it says in Deuteronomy 30:15, ‘I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.’ Follow in the footsteps of Jesus and do good.”
I glanced to my left and saw Margaret, underlining passages in her study Bible and taking copious notes.
Months earlier, I had befriended Margaret. We had fourth-period Spanish together but hadn’t interacted much. She was friends with Isaac, so I started hanging out with her to get closer to him. But eventually, the two of us were spending hours in the Starbucks parking lot having intense discussions about religion, boys, and our futures until we had to return home before curfew.
After hearing the pastor’s sermon, I realized that what I had admired about Isaac was also present in Margaret and other people at church: a welcoming spirit. I’m pretty sure Margaret knew of my ulterior motives for befriending her, but she never called me out on it.
After that day, I started paying more attention to Pastor Marcus’s sermons and less attention to Isaac. One year, our youth group served Christmas Eve dinner to the homeless and ate with them. I sat across from a woman named Lila who told me how child services had taken away her four-year-old daughter because of her financial and living situation.
A few days later, as I sat curled up reading the book of James, my heart suddenly felt heavy.
“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”
I thought back to Pastor Marcus’s sermon on good and bad actions, Lila and her daughter, and the times I had passed people in need without even saying hello.
I decided to put my faith into action. The next week, I started volunteering at the front desk of a women’s shelter, helping women fill out forms or watching their kids while they talked with social workers.
From working for the past year at the women’s shelter, I now know I want to major in social work, caring for others instead of focusing on myself. I may not be a good person (or a bad one), but I can make good choices, helping others with every opportunity God gives me.
Word count: 622
This essay shows how a student’s natural affinity for solving a Rubik’s cube developed her self-understanding, academic achievement, and inspiration for her future career.
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 worst part about writing is putting down my Rubik’s cube so that I can use my hands to type. That’s usually the worst part of tackling my to-do list: setting aside my Rubik’s cube. My parents call it an obsession. But, for me, solving a Rubik’s cube challenges my brain as nothing else can.
It started on my ninth birthday. I invited three friends for a sleepover party, and I waited to open my presents right before bed. Wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows flew through the air as I oohed and aahed over each delightful gift! However, it was the last gift—a 3 x 3 x 3 cube of little squares covered in red, green, blue, yellow, white, and orange—that intrigued me.
I was horrified when Bekka ripped it out of my hands and messed it all up! I had no idea how to make all the sides match again. I waited until my friends were fast asleep. Then, I grabbed that cube and studied it under my blanket with a flashlight, determined to figure out how to restore it to its former pristine state.
Within a few weeks, I had discovered the secret. To practice, I’d take my cube with me to recess and let the other kids time me while I solved it in front of them. The better I became, the more they gathered around. But I soon realized that their attention didn’t matter all that much. I loved solving cubes for hours wherever I was: at lunch, riding in the car, or alone in my room.
Cross. White corners. Middle-layer edges. Yellow cross. Sune and anitsune.
The sequential algorithms became second nature, and with the assistance of a little black digital timer, I strove to solve the cube faster , each time attempting to beat my previous record. I watched speed solvers on YouTube, like Australia’s Feliks Zemdegs and Max Park from Massachusetts, but I wasn’t motivated to compete as they did. I watched their videos to learn how to improve my time. I liked finding new, more efficient ways of mastering the essential 78 separate cube-solving algorithms.
Now, I understand why my passion for my Rubik’s cube has never waned. Learning and applying the various algorithms soothes my brain and centers my emotions, especially when I feel overwhelmed from being around other people. Don’t get me wrong: I like other people—just in doses.
While some people get recharged by spending time with others, I can finally breathe when I’m alone with my cube. Our psychology teacher says the difference between an extrovert and an introvert is the situations that trigger their brains to produce dopamine. For me, it’s time away, alone, flipping through cube patterns to set a new personal best.
Sometimes, the world doesn’t cooperate with introverts, requiring them to interact with many people throughout the day. That’s why you’ll often find me in the stairwell or a library corner attempting to master another one of the 42 quintillion ways to solve a cube. My parents tease me that when I’ve “had enough” of anything, my fingers get a Rubik’s itch, and I suddenly disappear. I’m usually occupied for a while, but when I finally emerge, I feel centered, prepared to tackle my next task.
Secretly, I credit my cube with helping me earn top marks in AP Calculus, Chemistry, and Physics. It’s also responsible for my interest in computer engineering. It seems I just can’t get enough of those algorithms, which is why I want to study the design and implementation of cybersecurity software—all thanks to my Rubik’s cube.
Just don’t tell my parents! It would ruin all the fun!
Word count: 607
In this free topic essay, the student uses a montage structure inspired by the TV show Iron Chef America to demonstrate his best leadership moments.
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.
Iron Chef America: College Essay Edition
The time has come to answer college’s most difficult question: Whose story shows glory?
This is … Iron Chef America: College Essay Edition!
Welcome to Kitchen Stadium! Today we have Chef Brett Lowell. Chef Brett will be put to the test to prove he has what it takes to attend university next fall.
And the secret ingredient is … leadership! He must include leadership in each of his dishes, which will later be evaluated by a panel of admissions judges.
So now, America, with a creative mind and empty paper, I say unto you in the words of my teacher: “Let’s write!”
Appetizer: My first leadership experience
A mountain of mismatched socks, wrinkled jeans, and my dad’s unironed dress shirts sat in front of me. Laundry was just one of many chores that welcomed me home once I returned from my after-school job at Baskin Robbins, a gig I had taken last year to help Dad pay the rent. A few years earlier, I wasn’t prepared to cook dinners, pay utility bills, or pick up and drop off my brothers. I thought those jobs were reserved for parents. However, when my father was working double shifts at the power plant and my mom was living in Tucson with her new husband, Bill, I stepped up and took care of the house and my two younger brothers.
Main course: My best leadership experience
Between waiting for the pasta water to boil and for the next laundry cycle to be finished, I squeezed in solving a few practice precalculus problems to prepare for the following week’s mathletics competition. I liked how the equations always had clear, clean answers, which calmed me among the mounting responsibilities of home life. After leading my team to the Minnesota State Finals for two years in a row, I was voted team captain. Although my home responsibilities often competed with my mathlete duties, I tried to be as productive as possible in my free time. On the bus ride home, I would often tackle 10 to 20 functions or budget the following week’s meals and corresponding grocery list. My junior year was rough, but both my home and my mathlete team needed me.
Dessert: My future leadership hopes
The first thing I ever baked was a chocolate cake in middle school. This was around the time that Mom had just moved out and I was struggling with algebra. Troubles aside, one day my younger brother Simon needed a contribution for his school’s annual bake sale, and the PTA moms wouldn’t accept anything store-bought. So I carefully measured out the teaspoons and cups of various flours, powders, and oils, which resulted in a drooping, too-salty disaster.
Four years later, after a bakery’s worth of confections and many hours of study, I’ve perfected my German chocolate cake and am on my way to mastering Calculus AB. I’ve also thrown out the bitter-tasting parts of my past such as my resentment and anger toward my mom. I still miss having her at home, but whenever I have a baking question or want to update her on my mathlete team’s success, I call her or chat with her over text.
Whether in school or life, I see problems as opportunities, not obstacles, to find a better way to solve them more efficiently. I hope to continue improving my problem-solving skills next fall by majoring in mathematics and statistics.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this tasting of Chef Lowell’s leadership experiences. Next fall, tune in to see him craft new leadership adventures in college. He’s open to refining his technique and discovering new recipes.
Word count: 612
The Common App essay is your primary writing sample within the Common Application, a college application portal accepted by more than 900 schools. All your prospective schools that accept the Common App will read this essay to understand your character, background, and value as a potential student.
Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any college names or programs; instead, save tailored answers for the supplementary school-specific essays within the Common App.
When writing your Common App essay , choose a prompt that sparks your interest and that you can connect to a unique personal story.
No matter which prompt you choose, admissions officers are more interested in your ability to demonstrate personal development , insight, or motivation for a certain area of study.
To decide on a good college essay topic , spend time thoughtfully answering brainstorming questions. If you still have trouble identifying topics, try the following two strategies:
- Identify your qualities → Brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities
- Identify memorable stories → Connect your qualities to these stories
You can also ask family, friends, or mentors to help you brainstorm topics, give feedback on your potential essay topics, or recall key stories that showcase your qualities.
A standout college essay has several key ingredients:
- A unique, personally meaningful topic
- A memorable introduction with vivid imagery or an intriguing hook
- Specific stories and language that show instead of telling
- Vulnerability that’s authentic but not aimed at soliciting sympathy
- Clear writing in an appropriate style and tone
- A conclusion that offers deep insight or a creative ending
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How To Answer the 2023-24 Common App Essay Prompts
Looking for help with the 2023-24 Common Application Essay? Below CEA’s Founder, Stacey Brook, breaks down all you need to know about this year’s prompts.
Stacey Brook, Founder and Chief Advisor
Hello, students and parents of the future class of 2028! The time has come. The Common App essay prompts for 2023-24 have been released and—spoiler alert—they’re exactly the same as last year’s! 2023-24 college applicants, like those who came before them, will have seven (that’s right, seven) essay prompts to choose from. This wide range of questions, meant to inspire candidates in their search for compelling personal stories, is ideal for exploring essay topics of all tones, styles, and subjects. Students’ personal stories and feats of insight will again be relegated to 650 words, which equates to a little more than a single-spaced page. We happen to believe this is the perfect amount of space in which to make a quick and powerful impression with admissions (or write a comprehensive fan letter to Beyoncé), so as far as we’re concerned, you’re golden.
Because we are committed to getting you the most timely and comprehensive essay advice on the interweb, we have made a guide to help you navigate the ins and outs of all seven prompts.
Before you dive (or cannonball!) into our pool of essay advice, we’d like to leave you with one last little secret: the prompts are not actually as important as you think they are . In fact, in our instructional YouTube videos and private advising , we encourage applicants to root around for their most meaningful stories first and consider the prompts later. This is a process we call the Backwards Brainstorm, and you can learn more about it here . For now, the main point we want you to take away is this: The prompts don’t really matter. What matters is the story you want to tell. (And that you floss at least every other day—trust us, it will pay off in the long run.) We are as sure as ever that every single one of you has a valuable story (or two or twelve!) to communicate to admissions. All it takes is ample time for reflection and a little writerly elbow grease to find it. So take a peek at what the 2023-24 application has in store for you, absorb what these prompts are really asking, and then forget about them (really!) as you explore the endless possibilities.
How To Write Common App Prompt #1: The Background Essay
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.
The Common App’s Prompt #1 is the Old Faithful of essay questions. It’s been around for years and offers all the flexibility an applicant could ask for from a prompt, with just enough direction to get those creative fountains flowing. Focus on the key words, “background,” “identity,” “interest,” and “talent,” and use them as launch points for your brainstorming. What about your history, personality, hobbies, or accomplishments might be worth highlighting for an admissions officer? It can be something as small as seeing an episode of a television show (are you living life in the Upside Down?) or as large as the struggle of moving to a foreign country (especially if you had to leave behind grandma’s cooking). The most important thing to consider for this prompt is that your subject and/or perspective is dynamic and specific to you and who you are and no one else.
Some questions to ask yourself as you brainstorm:
- What about my history or background sets me apart from my peers?
- How do I define myself? How do the people who are closest to me define me?
- What have I achieved that has been integral in molding my character and ambitions?
- What, in my seventeen years on this earth, has helped shape the person I am today?
And some examples to consider:
- Has your family’s love of food and your resultant adventurous tastes and culinary curiosity allowed you to connect with cultures from around the world?
- Does your crazy, dyed-blue hair define you?
- Did going to a Picasso exhibit inspire you to start an art collection that has since expanded beyond the borders of your bedroom?
- Have your yearly trips to see your extended family in China revealed something to you about your parents’ ability to overcome challenges and the work ethic you have absorbed as a result?
- What are the challenges and rewards of having same-sex parents? Or of being raised by your siblings? Or of being part of a family made up of stepsisters and stepbrothers?
Overall, this prompt is what we at College Essay Advisors call a “choose-your-own-adventure” prompt. It has historically served as a fabulous catch-all for subjects that don’t fit within the confines of the other prompt options. A recent addition to the Common App’s prompt selection now offers even more freedom to applicants (more on that later), but students should still think of Prompt #1 as a topic of immense choice, reeled in by a few helpful guidelines.
How To Write Common App Prompt #2: The Setback Essay
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?
We have always believed that essays about overcoming obstacles are most effective when they focus more on solutions than problems. Accordingly, Prompt #2 essays should be predominantly filled with a student’s response, outlook, and demeanor when presented with one of life’s many hurdles, rather than a detailed account of the hurdle itself. Applicants should aim to showcase qualities like resilience, determination, and humility. The obstacles you choose to explore can vary widely in nature, especially with the recent additions that allow students to explore challenges and setbacks in addition to failures. They can be as serious as being tormented by bullies, as ingrained as the financial issues that have plagued your family for years, or as seemingly pedestrian as a mistake that costs you a tip while waiting tables. While the possibilities are almost endless, students should be careful not to choose challenges that may seem trite (the inability to achieve an A on an exam and/or secure tickets to that BTS concert) or that illustrate a lapse in good judgment (that time you crashed your car or ate 15 bags of Cheetos in one sitting). Still, if you can isolate an incident of trial in your life and illustrate how you learned from it, this can be a rewarding prompt to explore.
Some key questions to consider:
- How do you deal with hardship?
- What qualifies as a challenge or setback in your life and world?
- Are you the kind of person who can rebound and turn every experience, good or bad, into one from which you can learn something? What experiences might illustrate this quality?
- What have been some of the major challenges you’ve encountered in your life? And was there a silver lining?
And a few examples to think about:
- Has a lifelong battle with stuttering ultimately increased your overall confidence and allowed you to participate in social activities and public forums without self-judgment?
- Did a parent’s fragile health situation challenge you to take on more responsibilities than the average teenager?
- Did a series of setbacks on your road to becoming a child actor introduce you to screenwriting, your professional goal and biggest passion?
- Did your failure to follow directions lead you to a botched home science experiment (root beer explosion!) and an appreciation for a balance of creativity and planned procedure?
Overall, try to keep these stories as positive as possible. Remember, these essays are not contemplative musings on your toughest times or reflections on the hiccups that populate everyday life (though these things can certainly be touched upon); they are about overcoming obstacles and refusing to submit to life’s greatest challenges.
How To Write Common App Prompt #3: The Challenger Essay
PROMPT #3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
This remains one of the most challenging prompts of the Common App’s selection, even though it has become slightly friendlier with the addition of the option to discuss a time you questioned an idea instead of challenged one. This prompt requires a student to speak passionately about beliefs and ideology, which are often onerous subjects that can be difficult to mold into compact stories. It can be one of the hardest questions to steer in a positive, productive direction without traveling into preachy, overly didactic territory. This is also a more precarious prompt than most in that students need to carefully assess the risks of espousing beliefs that might be polarizing for the readers of their applications.
That said, a response to this prompt can be incisive and deeply personal, as it was for a student who stood up to her parents’ old-fashioned outlook on feminism. Applicants who can articulate their thoughts and feelings while showcasing malleability and willingness to thoughtfully consider the ideas of others will likely stand out as valuable additions to any campus. If this prompt jumps out at you because you have a very specific story to tell or opinion to voice, run with it!
Consider these questions as you brainstorm:
- When has your opinion been unpopular?
- Why are you the kind of person who is willing to stand up for what you believe in?
- What is important to you on a fundamental level of morals and values?
- How passionate are you about the things you believe in?
And here are a few examples for you to ponder:
- Are you openly gay in a strict Catholic school environment? What has that meant for your self-esteem and personal relationships?
- Did you work as an intern on a political campaign caught at the center of a scandal? How did you react?
- Did you challenge the idea of horror as a throw-away genre by executing an extensive research paper on the subject, launching a horror movie club at school, and arranging the most elaborate, best-received haunted house your neighborhood has ever seen?
Your essay does not have to be focused around a fundamentally serious or groundbreaking issue (see the horror genre example above). What matters most when responding to this prompt is that you have strong convictions about the belief or idea you are trying to convey, and that you examine the personal effects of this ethos on your life and world. For this reason, Prompt #3 can be a great vehicle for showcasing your consideration, persuasive skills, and passions to admissions.
How To Write Common App Prompt #4: The Gratitude Essay
PROMPT #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?
We love Prompt #4, which asks students to talk about a time when they felt gratitude. So many of the Common App prompts set students up to talk about what they do for others. Just as important, however, is how applicants react and respond when they are the recipients of something meaningful themselves. Gratitude is quickly becoming a quality individuals are encouraged to connect to and reflect on regularly, hence the popularity of gratitude journals and exercises. (Brainstorming method alert!) This question is meant to offer students the opportunity to reflect on the role gratitude plays in their lives, as well as how the practice of giving thanks and acknowledging life’s gifts motivates and inspires them.
Students should think about times when they have felt acknowledged, heard, and seen. Moments when they have felt that swelling in their chest, as their heart grows three sizes. Think creatively about what you appreciate in your life. It can be a physical gift, an action, or even just a set of feelings projected in your direction. You can be intimately familiar with the person who has inspired your gratitude, or reflect on the actions of a near stranger or even a public figure who has impacted your life for the better. Just remember that this essay needs to focus on how you process, appreciate and draw inspiration from the action of others, so make sure your response is focused on YOU. Ultimately, admissions wants to know more about how you relate to others in the world, and how you repurpose good intentions.
Some questions to ponder:
- How do you like to pay it forward in your daily life?
- How (and why!) do you express gratitude and appreciation?
- What are your favorite random acts of kindness?
- Has anyone ever restored your faith in humanity? How?
- Do you believe in karma? Why?
And examples to use as food for thought:
- Did a kind gesture from a stranger inspire you to keep paying it forward? How do you do so and what’s become of your wholesome intentions?
- Have you ever received an unexpected gift from someone? Why was this gift so meaningful to you? How did you express your gratitude?
- Do you feel appreciative of a public figure for the work they have done to raise awareness about issues that are important to you? How do you give back?
It’s important that the story you choose to tell is linked to your life and world in a meaningful way. The whole purpose of this exercise is to reveal something valuable about yourself to admissions, so be sure to link the act of kindness you highlight to your passions, actions, or aspirations. And don’t forget to detail how this gift affected you then and still motivates you now. Once you’ve settled into your prompt of choice, following instructions to the fullest and answering all parts of each question are critical.
How To Write Common App Prompt #5: The Accomplishment Essay
PROMPT #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
There are a few things to note when unpacking this prompt. Keep in mind that the words “accomplishment” and “event” leave themselves open to interpretation; thus, an essay inspired by this question can tackle anything from a formal event to a very small occurrence. A formal event or accomplishment might include anything from obvious landmarks like birthdays or weddings to achievements like earning an award or receiving a promotion. More informal examples might include something as simple as meeting a special person in your life, taking a car ride, or eating a particularly meaningful meal. We have often found that smaller, less formal events make for more surprising and memorable essays; but as with any of the other prompts, as long as you can answer with originality and put a unique twist on your subject matter, all ideas are fair game.
Your reflection on what you have learned and how you have grown will be a source of great insight for admissions, and you want to make sure your essay highlights the intangible qualities that don’t show up anywhere else on an application.
Some other things to consider:
- How do you react to periods of transition? What inspires a change in your perspective?
- When have you had a “eureka” moment, and how has it impacted the way you lived your life thereafter?
- What were the moments in life that fundamentally changed you as a person?
- When did you learn something that made you feel more adult, more capable, more grown up?
- Did your expansion of a handmade stationery hobby into a full-fledged business give you the motivation and wherewithal to combat the effects of a debilitating illness?
- Have you learned to love the football team playback sessions that force you to routinely examine your mistakes, welcome constructive criticism and point yourself toward self-improvement?
- Did a summer-long role as the U.S. President in a mock government and diplomacy exercise bring out leadership skills you never knew you had?
- What did playing bridge at a senior citizens’ home each week show you about the value of enjoyment over competition? How did this change the way you interact and connect with others?
The most important things to keep in mind when searching for these moments are the elements of growth, understanding, and transformation. The event, accomplishment, or realization you discuss should be something that helped you understand the world around you through a different, more mature lens.
How To Write Common App Prompt #6: The Passion Essay
PROMPT #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?
One could argue that college is largely about the pursuit of knowledge, so you can imagine it would be quite appealing for an admissions officer to have a meter for your level of self-motivated learning, along with a better understanding of how and why you choose to pay attention to the things that intrigue you. This is a window into your brain: how you process information, how you seek out new sources of content and inspiration. How resourceful are you when your curiosity is piqued to the fullest? The answer to this prompt should also reveal something to admissions about the breadth or depth of your interests. For example, if you’re interested in studying astrophysics, you might choose to discuss a concept that shows how far your exploration of the sciences truly reaches. How consumed are you by this passion you are choosing to pursue academically?
- What floats your boat? Do you have an appetite for knowledge about something specific? Or, as we asked in the breakdown for Prompt #1: what do you love, and why do you love it?
- What lengths have you gone to in order to acquire new information about or experiences related to a topic of interest?
- How do you typically seek to enrich your knowledge when something appeals to you? Do you have a favorite corner of the library (or internet)? A mentor who is open to answering your burning questions?
- What about the process of learning, especially about subjects that call out to you, is satisfying?
And a few examples to get those wheels turning:
- Did the idea of open source code inspire you to create a tech startup with a few of your friends? What new projects within the company are you most excited to work on?
- Did getting an internship at an accounting firm inspire you to start each day by checking the markets? Do you participate in a mock trading club that allows you to use the expertise you gather from culling through economic news and analysis online and beyond?
- On any given Sunday morning, could we find you lost in the literature of Kurt Vonnegut or immersed in a collection of stories by Isaac Asimov?
- Have you taught yourself to master the compositions of Mozart and Beethoven and break down the songs of Bruno Mars by ear in your spare time?
- Do you have an obsession with pizza so intense it led you to study the culinary arts and keep a pizza journal that documents the 700+ slices you’ve consumed thus far? (We know someone who did this—really.) How is pizza-making more scientific and/or artistic than the average person realizes?
Whatever you’re into, embrace it. Show your feathers. Let your freak flag fly (within reason, obvs). This prompt is about the pursuit of knowledge and your desire to proactively challenge yourself. Whether you are devouring the classics on your Kindle or nerding out over the perfect cheese for calzone-making, your attachment to a subject may inspire admissions to want to learn more about it…and you.
How To Write Common App Prompt #7: Topic of Your Choice
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.
Feared by some, coveted by others, and legendary in its existence; regardless of where you stand on the issue, this was a newsworthy addition to the 2017-18 Common App prompt choices. For years, students have been treating Prompt #1 (which asks about your background, etc.) as topic of your choice *light*—it wasn’t exactly the delicious, full-freedom version students were looking for, but they were able to make it work in a pinch. Applicants around the world likely let out a big exhale when they saw they could still serve up a big scoop of Prompt #7 to admissions in previous seasons. And this year will be no different.
Some questions to consider as you brainstorm, in addition to all of the ones we’ve posed thus far:
- What do you want admissions to know about you that they wouldn’t be able to glean from your transcript, test scores, or teacher recommendations?
- What are the stories that come up over and over again, at the dinner table or in the cafeteria with your friends, that might give admissions some insight into who you are and what is important to you?
- If you had ten minutes alone in a room with an admissions officer, what would you want to talk about or tell him or her about yourself?
- What would you bring to a college campus that no one else would or could?
And a few examples of potential subjects and their related (custom!) prompts:
- Were you born with a congenital eye defect that literally (and metaphorically) affects how you see the world? ( Q: How is your perspective on the world unique?)
- Do you spend 40 minutes each Friday night tutoring a class of elementary school students in Cambodia? How has that impacted the way you mete out your time and assess your commitments? ( Q: What is the value of 40 minutes?)
- Did your parents let your older brother choose your name? What was his inspiration? (Please tell us your name is Gaston .) What does your name represent for you? How has it impacted your interactions in the world? ( Q: What’s in a name?)
While being able to write about whatever you wish sounds great in theory, some students find—especially at the beginning of the brainstorming process—that they are debilitated by the “topic of your choice” option because it offers too much choice. If that is the case, fear not! Use some of the other prompts as starting points for your brainstorming and free writing journeys. Begin keeping a diary ( now! ) and jot down subjects, events, and memories as they float to the surface. Now that you have read our handy-dandy prompt guide and understand what admissions is looking for from these prompts, you could very well have a notebook filled with ideas that are ripe for expansion by the time you sit down to write.
So don’t worry about having too many ideas, or not having enough ideas, especially at the beginning of the topic selection process. Once you figure out what you’d like to say (and maybe even after you draft the crux of the essay itself), see if your concept fits one of the first six prompts. Trying to tailor your essay to a more specific prompt option may inspire an interesting spin on the story you are trying to tell—one you may not have thought of otherwise. Form influences content. If, after careful consideration, your magic essay topic does not work within the confines of Prompts 1-6, you are in luck. The glorious, all-encompassing Prompt #7 will be here to catch you.
With some brainstorming and hard work, every student can uncover a story worth telling in response to one of these prompts. Remember, 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.
So take a few minutes to probe your memories, collect your stories and strike up that creative core. Every student has a fabulous essay inside of them – these prompts can help you find yours.
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15 Excellent Common App Essay Examples
The Common Application prompts are in your future if you are working on your college application.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not using the Common App , many colleges require you to answer some translation of the question “Who are you, and what do you appreciate in your life?”
Having helped thousands of students answer this question, I thought it would help to share some of my favorite Common App essay examples.
But first, let’s understand
What is the Common Application?
The Common App is the famous online system used by colleges and universities to help students apply to their college.
Many colleges accept the Common App , using it saves lots of your time. Why? The essay you write for the Common App is given to every school that you apply to.
The Common App essay comprises 650 words, and you have 7 prompts to pick from.
Note: Remember it doesn’t matter which prompt you choose. Our expert team recommends you write your essay first and then pick the prompt to match it.
Let’s check out some Common App prompts:
- Some students have a history, character, interest, or talent that is so significant they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then definitely share your story.
- The teachings we take from barriers we encounter in life can be crucial to later success. Remember a time when you faced a difficulty, test, setback, or failure. How hardly did it hit you, and what did you learn from the experience?
- Ponder on a time when you searched or challenged a faith, dogma, or idea. What inspired your thinking? What was the result?
- Think about something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or overwhelmed you in an unexpected way. How has this gratitude influenced or motivated you?
- Present your accomplishment, experience, or realization that sparked a time of personal growth and a new perception of yourself.
- You can talk about a particular topic, construct, or idea you find so appealing that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it fascinate you? Who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
- Discuss an essay on whatever topic you like. You can also discuss a topic you've already written, one that answers a different prompt, or something you designed
Before jumping into our Common App essay examples, you should keep in mind.
College admissions officers are looking for three things in your essay:
- Who is this person?
- Will this person contribute something of value to our campus?
- Can this person write?
The reader(admissions officers) should get a clear view of what you value and how you’ll put those values into action.
How do you write a great common app essay?
We’ll just look into some of the basics.
- Brainstorm (I think it’s the most important step).
- Structure your essay according to your topic.
- Draft. Revise. Repeat.
Let’s have a look at some of the great Common App essay examples.
Common Essay Example #1
As I enter the double doors, the smell of freshly rolled biscuits hits me almost instantly. I trace the fan blades as they swing above me, emitting a low, repetitive hum resembling a faint melody. After bringing our usual order, the “Tailgate Special,” to the table, my father begins discussing the recent performance of Apple stock with my mother, myself, and my older eleven year old sister. Bojangle’s, a Southern establishment well known for its fried chicken and reliable fast food, is my family’s Friday night restaurant, often accompanied by trips to Eva Perry, the nearby library. With one hand on my breaded chicken and the other on Nancy Drew: Mystery of Crocodile Island, I can barely sit still as the thriller unfolds. They’re imprisoned! Reptiles! Not the enemy’s boat! As I delve into the narrative with a sip of sweet tea, I feel at home.
“Five, six, seven, eight!” As I shout the counts, nineteen dancers grab and begin to spin the tassels attached to their swords while walking heel-to-toe to the next formation of the classical Chinese sword dance. A glance at my notebook reveals a collection of worn pages covered with meticulously planned formations, counts, and movements. Through sharing videos of my performances with my relatives or discovering and choreographing the nuances of certain regional dances and their reflection on the region’s distinct culture, I deepen my relationship with my parents, heritage, and community. When I step on stage, the hours I’ve spent choreographing, creating poses, teaching, and polishing are all worthwhile, and the stage becomes my home.
Set temperature. Calibrate. Integrate. Analyze. Set temperature. Calibrate. Integrate. Analyze. This pulse mimics the beating of my heart, a subtle rhythm that persists each day I come into the lab. Whether I am working under the fume hood with platinum nanoparticles, manipulating raw integration data, or spraying a thin platinum film over pieces of copper, it is in Lab 304 in Hudson Hall that I first feel the distinct sensation, and I’m home. After spending several weeks attempting to synthesize platinum nanoparticles with a diameter between 10 and 16 nm, I finally achieve nanoparticles with a diameter of 14.6 nm after carefully monitoring the sulfuric acid bath. That unmistakable tingling sensation dances up my arm as I scribble into my notebook: I am overcome with a feeling of unbridled joy.
Styled in a t-shirt, shorts, and a worn, dark green lanyard, I sprint across the quad from the elective ‘Speaking Arabic through the Rassias Method’ to ‘Knitting Nirvana’. This afternoon is just one of many at Governor’s School East, where I have been transformed from a high school student into a philosopher, a thinker, and an avid learner. While I attend GS at Meredith College for Natural Science, the lessons learned and experiences gained extend far beyond physics concepts, serial dilutions, and toxicity. I learn to trust myself to have difficult yet necessary conversations about the political and economic climate. Governor’s School breeds a culture of inclusivity and multidimensionality, and I am transformed from a “girl who is hardworking” or a “science girl” to someone who indulges in the sciences, debates about psychology and the economy, and loves to swing and salsa dance. As I form a slip knot and cast on, I’m at home.
My home is a dynamic and eclectic entity. Although I’ve lived in the same house in Cary, North Carolina for 10 years, I have found and carved homes and communities that are filled with and enriched by tradition, artists, researchers, and intellectuals. While I may not always live within a 5-mile radius of a Bojangle’s or in close proximity to Lab 304, learning to become a more perceptive daughter and sister, to share the beauty of my heritage, and to take risks and redefine scientific and personal expectations will continue to impact my sense of home.
Have a look at this video for more understanding.
CRUSH the Common Application Essay! 8 Tips.
Common App Essay Example #2
It was Easter and we should’ve been celebrating with our family, but my father had locked us in the house. If he wasn’t going out, neither were my mother and I.
My mother came to the U.S. from Mexico to study English. She’d been an exceptional student and had a bright future ahead of her. But she fell in love and eloped with the man that eventually became my father. He loved her in an unhealthy way, and was both physically and verbally abusive. My mother lacked the courage to start over so she stayed with him and slowly let go of her dreams and aspirations. But she wouldn’t allow for the same to happen to me.
In the summer before my junior year I was offered a scholarship to study abroad in Egypt. Not to my surprise, my father refused to let me go. But my mother wouldn’t let him crush my dreams as well. I’d do this for myself and for my mothers unfulfilled aspirations. I accepted the scholarship.
I thought I’d finally have all the freedom I longed for in Egypt, but initially I didn’t. On a weekly basis I heard insults and received harassment in the streets, yet I didn’t yield to the societal expectations for women by staying indoors. I continued to roam throughout Egypt, exploring the Great Pyramids of Giza , cruising on the Nile, and traveling to Luxor and Aswan. And before I returned to the U.S. I received the unexpected opportunity to travel to London and Paris. It was surreal: a girl from the ghetto traveling alone around the world with a map in her hands And no man or cultural standards could dictate what I was to do. I rode the subway from Cambridge University to the British Museum. I took a train from London to Paris and in two days I visited the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, and took a cruise on the Seine. Despite the language barrier I found I had the self-confidence to approach anyone for directions.
While I was in Europe enjoying my freedom, my mother moved out and rented her own place. It was as if we’d simultaneously gained our independence. We were proud of each other. And she vicariously lived through my experiences as I sent her pictures and told her about my adventures.
Finally, we were free.
I currently live in the U.S with my mother. My father has gradually transformed from a frigid man to the loving father I always yearned for. Life isn’t perfect, but for the moment I’m enjoying tranquility and stability with my family and are communicating much better than ever before.
I’m involved in my school’s Leadership Council as leader of our events committee. We plan and execute school dances and create effective donation letters. I see this as a stepping-stone for my future, as I plan to double major in Women’s Studies and International Relations with a focus on Middle Eastern studies. After the political turmoil of the Arab Spring many Middle Eastern countries refuse to grant women equal positions in society because that would contradict Islamic texts. By oppressing women they’re silencing half of their population. I believe these Islamic texts have been misinterpreted throughout time, and my journey towards my own independence has inspired me to help other women find liberation as well.
My Easter will drastically differ from past years. Rather than being locked at home, my mother and I will celebrate outdoors our rebirth and renewal.
Era Pascua y deberíamos haber estado celebrando con nuestra familia, pero mi padre nos había encerrado en casa. Si él no iba a salir, tampoco mi madre e yo.
Mi madre vino a los EE.UU. desde México para estudiar Inglés . Había sido una estudiante excepcional y tenía un futuro brillante por delante de ella . Pero se enamoró y se fugó con el hombre que sería mi padre. La amaba pero de una manera destructiva, y era a la vez física y verbalmente abusivo. Mi madre no tuvo el valor para empezar de nuevo así que se quedó con él y poco a poco puso a un lado sus sueños y aspiraciones. Pero ella no permitiría que me ocurriera lo mismo que a ella.
El verano pasado, en mi primer año me ofrecieron una beca para estudiar en el extranjero en Egipto. No, para mi sorpresa , mi padre se negó a dejarme ir. Pero mi madre no permitió que mi padre arruinara mis sueños también. Yo haría esto no sólo por mí sino también por mi madre y sus aspiraciones que no había cumplido. Acepté la beca.
Pensé que por fin tendría toda la libertad que anhelaba en Egipto, pero al principio no lo tuve. Diario escuché los insultos y recibí el acoso en las calles, pero no me someti ante las expectativas que la sociedad tenia para las mujeres por quedarme en casa. Seguí viajando por todo Egipto, las grandes pirámides de Giza, crucero por el Nilo, y viajes a Luxor y Aswan. Y antes de regresar a los EE.UU. recibí la inesperada oportunidad de viajar a Londres y París. Fue surrealista: una chica del barrio viajaria sola por el mundo con un mapa en sus manos y ningún hombre o norma cultural podría dictar lo que iba o podía a hacer. Me subí a un tren desde la Universidad de Cambridge hasta el Museo Británico. Tomé un tren de Londres a París y en dos días visité la Torre Eiffel, el Louvre , la Catedral de Notre Dame, y tomé un crucero por el río Sena. A pesar de la barrera del idioma me di cuenta que tenía la confianza en mi misma para acercarme a cualquier persona en mi camino.
Mientras estaba en Europa disfrutando de mi libertad, mi madre se mudó y alquiló su propio lugar . Era como si al mismo tiempo habíamos ganado nuestra independencia. Nos sentimos orgullosos de una misma. Y ella vivía vicariamente a través de mis experiencias por media de las fotos que le envié lo que le conté de mis aventuras.
Finalmente, éramos libres.
Ahora vivo en los EE.UU. con mi madre. Mi padre se ha transformado gradualmente de un hombre frígido a el padre amoroso que siempre anhelaba . Mi vida no es perfecta, pero por el momento estoy disfrutando de la tranquilidad y la estabilidad con mi familia y nos comunicamos mucho mejor que antes.
Yo estoy involucrada en el Consejo de Liderazgo de mi escuela como líder de nuestro comité de eventos. Planificamos y ejecutamos los bailes escolares y creamos cartas de donación efectivas. Veo esto como un comienzo hacia mi futuro , ya que tengo pensado en obtener una doble licenciatura en Estudios de la Mujer y Relaciones Internacionales con énfasis en estudios de Medio Oriente. Después de la rebeldía civil de la primavera Árabe muchos países del Medio Oriente se negaron a concederles a las mujeres la igualdad en posiciones en la sociedad, ya que estaría en contradicción con la religión de Islam. La opresión de la mujer está silenciando a la mitad de la población. Creo que estos textos islámicos han sido mal interpretados a través del tiempo, y mi trayecto hacia mi propia independencia me ha inspirado a ayudar a otras mujeres a encontrar su liberación también.
Mi Pascua cambió drásticamente en comparación con los últimos años. En lugar de estar encerrados en casa, mi madre y yo celebramos al aire libre nuestro renacimiento y renovación.
Common App Essay Example #3
In eighth grade, I was asked to write my hobbies and career goals, but I hesitated. Should I just make something up? I was embarrassed to tell people that my hobby was collecting cosmetics and that I wanted to become a cosmetic chemist. I worried others would judge me as too girlish and less competent compared to friends who wanted to work at the UN in foreign affairs or police the internet to crack down on hackers. The very fact that I was insecure about my "hobby" was perhaps proof that cosmetics was trivial, and I was a superficial girl for loving it.
But cosmetics was not just a pastime, it was an essential part of my daily life. In the morning I got up early for my skincare routine, using brightening skin tone and concealing blemishes, which gave me the energy and confidence throughout the day. At bedtime I relaxed with a soothing cleansing ritual applying different textures and scents of liquids, creams, sprays, and gels. My cosmetic collection was a dependable companion - rather than hiding it away, I decided instead to learn more about cosmetics, and to explore.
However, cosmetic science wasn't taught at school so I designed my own training. It began with the search for a local cosmetician to teach me the basics of cosmetics, and each Sunday I visited her lab to formulate organic products. A year of lab practice taught me how little I knew about ingredients, so my training continued with independent research on toxins. I discovered that safety in cosmetics was a contested issue amongst scientists, policy makers, companies, and consumer groups, variously telling me there are toxic ingredients that may or may not be harmful. I was frustrated by this uncertainty, yet motivated to find ways of sharing what I was learning with others.
Research spurred action. I began writing articles on the history of toxic cosmetics, from lead in Elizabethan face powder to lead in today's lipstick, and communicated with a large readership online. Positive feedback from hundreds of readers inspired me to step up my writing, to raise awareness with my peers, so I wrote a gamified survey for online distribution discussing the slack natural and organic labeling of cosmetics, which are neither regulated nor properly defined. At school I saw opportunities to affect real change and launched a series of green chemistry campaigns: the green agenda engaged the school community in something positive and was a magnet for creative student ideas, such as a recent project to donate handmade organic pet shampoo to local dog shelters. By senior year, I was pleased my exploration had gone well.
But on a recent holiday back home, I unpacked and noticed cosmetics had invaded much of my space over the years. Dresser top and drawers were crammed with unused tubes and jars — once handpicked with loving care — had now become garbage. I sorted through each hardened face powder and discolored lotion, remembering what had excited me about the product and how I'd used it. Examining these mementos led me to a surprising realization: yes, I had been a superficial girl obsessed with clear and flawless skin.
But there was something more too.
My makeup had given me confidence and comfort, and that was okay. I am glad I didn't abandon the superficial me, but instead acknowledged her, and stood by her to take her on an enlightening and rewarding journey. Cosmetics led me to dig deeper into scientific inquiry, helped me develop an impassioned voice, and became a tool to connect me with others. Together, I've learned that the beauty of a meaningful journey lies in getting lost for it was in the meandering that I found myself.
Common App Essay Example #4
Transformers are not just for boys. I loved these amazing robots that could transform into planes and cars the first time I saw them in the toy store. The boys had all the samples, refusing to let me play with one. When I protested loudly to my mother, she gently chided me that Transformers were ugly and unfeminine. She was wrong.
When I moved from China to Canada, my initial excitement turned to dismay as my peers were not as understanding of my language barrier as I’d hoped. I joined the robotics team in a desperate attempt to find a community, though I doubted I would fit into the male-dominated field. Once I used physics to determine gear ratio, held a drill for the first time, and jumped into the pit to fix a robot, I was hooked.
I went back to China that summer to bring robotics to my friends. I asked them to join me in the technology room at my old school and showed them how to use power tools to create robot parts. I pitched my idea to the school principal and department heads. By the time I left China, my old school had a team.
Throughout the next year, I guided my Chinese team-only one of three that existed in the country-with the help of social media. I translated instructions, set building deadlines and coached them on how to answer judges’ questions.
I returned to China a year later to lead my team through their first Chinese-hosted international competition. Immediately upon arrival to the competition, I gave the Chinese head official important documents for urgent distribution. I knew all the Chinese teams would need careful instructions on the rules and procedures. I was surprised when the competition descended into confusion and chaos. Government policies against information sharing had blocked the Chinese teams from receiving information and the Chinese organizers hadn’t distributed my documents. I decided to create another source of knowledge for my fledgling robotics teams.
It took me several weeks to create a sharing platform that students could access through the firewall. On it, I shared my experience and posted practical practice challenges. I received hundreds of shares and had dozens of discussion questions posted.
My platform’s popularity created an unintended issue; it garnered the attention and reprimand of the Chinese robotics organizations. When a head official reached out to my Canadian mentors, warning them to stop my involvement with the Chinese teams, I was concerned. When a Chinese official publicly chastised me on a major robotics forum, I was heartbroken. They made it clear that my gender, my youth, and my information sharing approach was not what they wanted.
I considered quitting. But so many students reached out to me requesting help. I wanted to end unnecessary exclusion. I worked to enhance access to my platform. I convinced Amazon to sponsor my site, giving it access to worldwide high-speed servers. Although I worried about repercussions, I continued to translate and share important documents.
During the busy building season, my platform is swamped with discussions, questions and downloads. I have organized a group of friends to help me monitor the platform daily so that no question or request is left unanswered. Some of my fears have come true: I have been banned from several Chinese robotics forums. I am no longer allowed to attend Chinese robotics competitions in China as a mentor. The Chinese government has taken down my site more than once.
Robotics was my first introduction to the wonderful world of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. I am dedicated to the growth of robotics in places where it is needed and wanted. I have used my hands and mind to tear down all barriers that separate people, no matter gender or nationality, from the inspiration and exploration of STEM.
Transformers, robotics and STEM are for boys and girls, even in China.
Common App Essay Example #5
On “Silent Siege Day,” many students in my high school joined the Students for Life club and wore red armbands with “LIFE” on them. As a non-Catholic in a Catholic school, I knew I had to be cautious in expressing my opinion on the abortion debate. However, when I saw that all of the armband-bearing students were male, I could not stay silent.
I wrote on Instagram, “pro-choice does not necessarily imply pro-abortion; it means that we respect a woman’s fundamental right to make her own choice regarding her own body.”
Some of my peers expressed support but others responded by calling me a dumb bitch, among other names. When I demanded an apology for the name-calling, I was told I needed to learn to take a joke: “you have a lot of anger, I think you need a boyfriend.” Another one of my peers apparently thought the post was sarcastic (?) and said “I didn’t know women knew how to use sarcasm.”
One by one, I responded. I was glad to have sparked discussion, but by midnight, I was mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Completely overwhelmed by the 140+ comments, I looked to my parents for comfort, assuming they would be proud of me for standing up for my beliefs. But instead, they told me to remove the post and to keep quiet, given the audience. I refused to remove the post, but decided to stay silent.
For months, I heard students talking about “The Post,” and a new sense of self-consciousness felt like duct tape over my mouth. As I researched the history of Planned Parenthood (to respond to someone accusing it of “the genocide of black babies”), I became interested in the history of the feminist movement. At the same time, I was studying the Civil Rights Movement in my history class, and researching my feminist critique of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. I gradually began to realize that refusing to conform to the conventions of society is what propels us toward equality. Martin Luther King was arrested nearly thirty times for ‘civil disobedience’ and Susan B. Anthony for ‘illegal voting.’ Letting the social media backlash silence my own fight for social justice seemed silly and unacceptable.
Before The Post, I naïvely thought that sexism was dead, but I came to see its ubiquity, whether it’s painfully conspicuous or seemingly innocuous. Knowing that young girls are especially vulnerable to constricting gender stereotypes, I Googled “girls empowerment programs” and called Girls on the Run to see how I could help. As a junior coach, I spend my Monday and Thursday afternoons with middle school girls, running, singing Taylor Swift songs, discussing our daily achievements (I got 100 on my math test!), and setting goals for the next day. The girls celebrate their accomplishments and talk about themselves positively, fully expressing their self-esteem.
After The Post, I also Googled ‘how to be politically active,’ and signed petitions for the Medicare for All Act, the Raise the Wage Act, and the EACH Woman Act, among others. In response to the transgender military ban, I called the White House (they hung up as soon as I said “as a human rights advocate...,” but I tried). It feels good to sign petitions, but I’m still not doing enough. I want to fight for social justice in the courtroom.
My role model Ruth Bader Ginsburg says, “dissent[ers] speak to a future age... they are writing not for today but for tomorrow.” Retrospectively, I realize that The Post was my voice of dissent―through it, I initiated a campus-wide discussion and openly challenged the majority opinion of my school for the first time. As I aspire to become a civil rights attorney and the first Asian woman on the Supreme Court (I hope it doesn’t take that long!), I am confident that I will continue to write and speak out for justice ―for tomorrow.
Common App Essay Example #6
“¡Mijo! ¡Ya levantate! ¡Se hace tarde!” (Son! Wake up! It's late already.) My father’s voice pierced into my room as I worked my eyes open. We were supposed to open the restaurant earlier that day.
Ever since 5th grade, I have been my parents’ right hand at Hon Lin Restaurant in our hometown of Hermosillo, Mexico. Sometimes, they needed me to be the cashier; other times, I was the youngest waiter on staff. Eventually, when I got strong enough, I was called into the kitchen to work as a dishwasher and a chef’s assistant.
The restaurant took a huge toll on my parents and me. Working more than 12 hours every single day (even holidays), I lacked paternal guidance, thus I had to build autonomy at an early age. On weekdays, I learned to cook my own meals, wash my own clothes, watch over my two younger sisters, and juggle school work.
One Christmas Eve we had to prepare 135 turkeys as a result of my father’s desire to offer a Christmas celebration to his patrons. We began working at 11pm all the way to 5am. At one point, I noticed the large dark bags under my father’s eyes. This was the scene that ignited the question in my head: “Is this how I want to spend the rest of my life?”
The answer was no.
So I started a list of goals. My first objective was to make it onto my school’s British English Olympics team that competed in an annual English competition in the U.K. After two unsuccessful attempts, I got in. The rigorous eight months of training paid off as we defeated over 150 international schools and lifted the 2nd Place cup; pride permeated throughout my hometown.
Despite the euphoria brought by victory, my sense of stability would be tested again, and therefore my goals had to adjust to the changing pattern.
During the summer of 2014, my parents sent me to live in the United States on my own to seek better educational opportunities. I lived with my grandparents, who spoke Taishan (a Chinese dialect I wasn’t fluent in). New responsibilities came along as I spent that summer clearing my documentation, enrolling in school, and getting electricity and water set up in our new home. At 15 years old, I became the family’s financial manager, running my father’s bank accounts, paying bills and insurance, while also translating for my grandmother, and cleaning the house.
In the midst of moving to a new country and the overwhelming responsibilities that came with it, I found an activity that helped me not only escape the pressures around me but also discover myself. MESA introduced me to STEM and gave me nourishment and a new perspective on mathematics. As a result, I found my potential in math way beyond balancing my dad’s checkbooks.
My 15 years in Mexico forged part of my culture that I just cannot live without. Trying to fill the void for a familiar community, I got involved with the Association of Latin American students, where I am now an Executive Officer. I proudly embrace the identity I left behind. I started from small debates within the club to discussing bills alongside 124 Chicanos/Latinos at the State Capitol of California.
The more I scratch off from my goals list, the more it brings me back to those days handling spatulas. Anew, I ask myself, “Is this how I want to spent the rest of my life?” I want a life driven by my passions, rather than the impositions of labor. I want to explore new paths and grow within my community to eradicate the prejudicial barriers on Latinos. So yes, this IS how I want to spend the rest of my life.
Common App Essay Example #7
I’m no stranger to contrast. A Chinese American with accented Chinese, a Florida-born Texan, a first generation American with a British passport: no label fits me without a caveat.
But I’ve always strived to find connections among the dissimilar. In my home across the sea, although my relatives’ rapid Mandarin sails over my head, in them I recognize the same work ethic that carried my parents out of rural Shanghai to America, that fueled me through sweltering marching band practices and over caffeinated late nights. I even spend my free time doing nonograms, grid-based logic puzzles solved by using clues to fill in seemingly random pixels to create a picture.
It started when I was a kid. One day, my dad captured my fickle kindergartner attention (a herculean feat) and taught me Sudoku. As he explained the rules, those mysterious scaffoldings of numbers I often saw on his computer screen transformed into complex structures of logic built by careful strategy.
From then on, I wondered if I could uncover the hidden order behind other things in my life. In elementary school, I began to recognize patterns in the world around me: thin, dark clouds signaled rain, the moon changed shape every week, and the best snacks were the first to go. I wanted to know what unseen rules affected these things and how they worked. My parents, both pipeline engineers, encouraged this inquisitiveness and sometimes tried explaining to me how they solved puzzles in their own work. Although I didn’t understand the particulars, their analytical mindsets helped me muddle through math homework and optimize matches in Candy Crush.
In high school, I studied by linking concepts across subjects as if my coursework was another puzzle to solve. PEMDAS helped me understand appositive phrases, and the catalysts for revolutions resembled chemical isotopes, nominally different with the same properties.
As I grew older, my interests expanded to include the delicate systems of biology, the complexity of animation, and the nuances of language. Despite these subjects’ apparent dissimilarity, each provided fresh, fascinating perspectives on the world with approaches like color theory and evolution. I was (and remain) voracious for the new and unusual, spending hours entrenched in Wikipedia articles on obscure topics, i.e. classical ciphers or dragons, and analyzing absurdist YouTube videos.
Unsurprisingly, like pilot fish to their sharks, my career aspirations followed my varied passions: one day I wanted to be an illustrator, the next a biochemist, then a stand-up comedian. When it came to narrowing down the choices, narrowing down myself, I felt like nothing would satisfy my ever-fluctuating intellectual appetite.
But when I discovered programming, something seemed to settle. In computer science, I had found a field where I could be creative, explore a different type of language, and (yes) solve puzzles. Coding let me both analyze logic in its purest form and manipulate it to accomplish anything from a simple “print ‘hello world’” to creating functional games. Even when lines of red error messages fill my console, debugging offered me the same thrill as a particularly good puzzle. Now, when I see my buggy versions of Snake, Paint, and Pacman in my files, I’m filled paradoxically with both satisfaction and a restless itch to improve the code and write new, better programs.
While to others my life may seem like a jumble of incompatible fragments, like a jigsaw puzzle, each piece connects to become something more. However, there are still missing pieces at the periphery: experiences to have, knowledge to gain, bad jokes to tell. Someday I hope to solve the unsolvable. But for now, I’ve got a nonogram with my name on it.
Common App Essay Example #8
Growing up, my world was basketball. My summers were spent between the two solid black lines. My skin was consistently tan in splotches and ridden with random scratches. My wardrobe consisted mainly of track shorts, Nike shoes, and tournament t-shirts. Gatorade and Fun Dip were my pre-game snacks. The cacophony of rowdy crowds, ref whistles, squeaky shoes, and scoreboard buzzers was a familiar sound. I was the team captain of almost every team I played on—familiar with the Xs and Os of plays, commander of the court, and the coach’s right-hand girl.
But that was only me on the surface.
Deep down I was an East-Asian influenced bibliophile and a Young Adult fiction writer.
Hidden in the cracks of a blossoming collegiate-level athlete was a literary fiend. I devoured books in the daylight. I crafted stories at night time. After games, after practice, after conditioning, I found nooks of solitude. Within these moments, I became engulfed in a world of my own creation. Initially, I only read young adult literature, but I grew to enjoy literary fiction and self-help: Kafka, Dostoevsky, Branden, Csikszentmihalyi. I expanded my bubble to Google+ critique groups, online discussion groups, blogs, writing competitions, and clubs. I wrote my first novel in fifth grade, my second in seventh grade, and started my third in ninth grade. Reading was instinctual. The writing was impulsive.
I stumbled upon the movies of Hayao Miyazaki at a young age. I related a lot to the underlying East Asian philosophy present in his movies. My own perspective on life, growth, and change was echoed in his storytelling. So, I read his autobiographies, watched anime, and researched ancient texts—Analects, The Way, Art of War. Then, I discovered the books of Haruki Murakami whom I now emulate in order to improve my writing.
Like two sides of a coin, I lived in two worlds. One world was outward—aggressive, noisy, invigorating; the other, internal—tempestuous, serene, nuanced.
Internal and external conflict ensued. Many times I was seen only as an athlete and judged by the stereotypes that come with it: self-centered, unintelligent, listen to rap. But off the court, I was more reflective, empathetic and I listened to music like Florence and the Machine. I was even sometimes bullied for not acting “black enough.” My teammates felt that my singular focus should be basketball and found it strange that I participated in so many extracurriculars.
But why should I be one-dimensional? I had always been motivated to reach the pinnacle of my potential in whatever I was interested in. Why should I be defined by only one aspect of my life? I felt like I had to pick one world.
Then I had an ACL injury. And then another. And then another.
After the first ACL surgery, my family and I made the decision to homeschool. I knew I wanted to explore my many interests—literature, novel writing, East Asian culture, and basketball—equally. So I did. I found time to analyze Heart of Darkness and used my blog to instruct adult authors on how to become self-published authors. I researched Shintoism, read dozens of books on writing and self-improvement. My sister and I had been talking for a while about starting a nonprofit focused on social awareness, education, and community outreach. Finally, we had the time to do it.
While basketball has equipped me with leadership skills and life experiences, it is only one part of who I am. As a socially aware, intellectual, and introspective individual, I value creative expression and independence. My life’s mission is to reach my full potential in order to help others reach their own.
Common App Essay Example #9
When I was a little girl, I imagined I had superpowers. Deadly lasers would shoot from my eyes pulverizing the monsters hiding under my bed. Mom would wonder where I had magically disappeared to after I turned invisible as she forced me to eat that plate of broccoli. It was the wish I made on every birthday candle and upon every bright star.
Who knew my dream would come true.
I discovered my first power when I turned 14. My mom had been diagnosed with Ovarian cancer my freshman year of high school. Seated alone in my room, I became lost in a cycle of worry and panic. In the midst of my downward spiral, I reached out for a small bristled paintbrush, guiding it across the canvas—the motion gave me peace. My emotions spilled out onto the canvas, staining my clothes with a palette of blues and blacks. A sense of calm replaced the anxiety and fear which had gripped me tightly for so many months. Painting gave me the power to heal myself and find peace in a scary situation.
Little did I know, sharing my superpower would lead me to unfamiliar parts of my city. I was alerted to trouble at an elementary school in Dallas where students’ access to the arts was under threat from budget cuts. I joined forces with the principal and the school’s community service representative to create an afterschool arts program. From paper masks in October to pots of sunshine crafts in March, it did more than teach students to freely draw and color; it created a community where kids connected with the power of art to express joy, hope, and identity. The program, now in its third year, has succeeded in reaching kids deprived of art. Sharing art with these students has given me the power to step outside of my familiar surroundings and connect with kids I never would have met otherwise. I am grateful for the power of art to not only heal but to also connect with others.
I knew my powers worked on a local level but I wanted to reach out globally. For four years, I have been searching for a way to defeat the scourge of child marriage, a leading cause of poverty in rural India. I discovered a formula in which girls’ education successfully defeats child marriage as part of my capstone project through the Academy of Global Studies (AGS) program at my school.
I took my powers overseas, flying 8,535 miles to arrive at a dilapidated school in the bleak slums of Jaipur, India. While conducting interviews with pre-adolescent girls stuffed into dusty classrooms, I learned of their grey routines: rising early to obtain well-water, cooking, cleaning and caring for younger siblings prior to rushing to school. Despite the efforts of keeping these girls in school to prevent child marriage, their school relied on rote memorization without any creative arts programming. As I organized my art project for these girls, I was unsure if my powers would reach them. Their initial skepticism and uncertainty slowly transformed into wonder and joy as they brought their bright paper fish cut-outs to life. The experience opened my eyes to the power of art to form universal connections, and it inspires me to share and strengthen its force within the lives of all children.
Much of the little girl yearning for superpowers remains a part of me. But now I have moved beyond wishing for powers to acquiring a deeper understanding of how superpowers work. While I never fulfilled my wish to run at lightning speeds or shoot spiderwebs from my fingers, my experiences with art have taught me that the greatest superpowers lie within each of us—the powers to create, express, and connect in meaningful ways. Every girl deserves the chance to dream, I am just lucky mine came true.
Common App Essay Example #10
Does every life matter? Because it seems like certain lives matter more than others, especially when it comes to money.
I was in eighth grade when a medical volunteer group that my dad had led to Northern Thailand faced a dilemma of choosing between treating a patient with MDR-TB or saving $5000 (the estimated treatment cost for this patient) for future patients. I remember overhearing intense conversations outside the headquarters tent. My dad and his friend were arguing that we should treat the woman regardless of the treatment cost, whereas the others were arguing that it simply cost too much to treat her. Looking back, it was a conflict between ideals—one side argued that everyone should receive treatment whereas the other argued that interventions should be based on cost-effectiveness. I was angry for two reasons. First, because my father lost the argument. Second, because I couldn’t logically defend what I intuitively believed: that every human being has a right to good health. In short, that every life matters.
Over the next four years I read piles of books on social justice and global health equity in order to prove my intuitive belief in a logical manner. I even took online courses at the undergraduate and graduate level. But I failed to find a clear, logical argument for why every life mattered. I did, however, find sound arguments for the other side, supporting the idea that society should pursue the well-being of the greatest number, that interventions should mitigate the most death and disability per dollar spent. Essentially, my research screamed, “Kid, it’s all about the numbers.”
But I continued searching, even saving up pocket money to attend a summer course on global health at Brown University. It was there that I met Cate Oswald, a program director for Partners in Health (PIH), an organization that believed “the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.” It was like finding a ray of light in the darkness.
Refueled with hope, I went back to find the answer, but this time I didn’t dive into piles of books or lectures. I searched my memories. Why was I convinced that every life mattered?
When the woman with MDR-TB came to our team, she brought along with her a boy that looked about my age. Six years have passed since I met him, but I still remember the gaze he gave me as he left with his mother. It wasn’t angry, nor was it sad. It was, in a way, serene. It was almost as if he knew this was coming. That burdened me. Something inside me knew this wasn’t right. It just didn’t feel right. Perhaps it was because I, for a second, placed myself in his shoes, picturing what I’d feel if my mother was the woman with MDR-TB.
Upon reflection, I found that my answer didn’t exist in books or research, but somewhere very close from the beginning—my intuition. In other words, I didn’t need an elaborate and intricate reason to prove to myself that health is an inalienable right for every human being—I needed self-reflection.
So I ask again, “Does every life matter?” Yes. “Do I have solid, written proof?” No.
Paul Farmer once said, “The thing about rights is that in the end you can’t prove what is a right.” To me, global health is not merely a study. It’s an attitude—a lens I use to look at the world—and it’s a statement about my commitment to health as a fundamental quality of liberty and equity.
Common App Essay Example #11
For over two years, my final class of the day has been nontraditional. No notes, no tests, no official assignments. Just a twenty-three-minute lecture every Monday through Thursday, which I watched from my couch. Professor Jon Stewart would lecture his class about the news of the day, picking apart the absurdities of current events.
The Daily Show inspired me to explore the methods behind the madness of the world Stewart satirized. Although I’d always had a passion for the news, I evolved from scrolling through Yahoo’s homepage to reading articles from The New York Times and The Economist. I also began to tie in knowledge I learned in school. I even caught The Daily Show inexcusably putting a picture of John Quincy Adams at a table with the founding fathers instead of John Adams! Thanks, APUSH.
Clearly, The Daily Show has a political slant. However, Stewart convinced me that partisan media, regardless of its political affiliation, can significantly impact its viewers’ political beliefs. I wrote a psychology paper analyzing the polarizing effects of the media and how confirmation bias leads already opinionated viewers to ossify their beliefs. As a debater, I’ve learned to argue both sides of an issue, and the hardest part of this is recognizing one’s own biases. I myself had perhaps become too biased from my viewing of The Daily Show, and ultimately this motivated me to watch CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, allowing me to assimilate information from opposing viewpoints.
I embraced my new role as an intellectual moderator in academic discourse… at my friend’s 17th birthday party. It was there that two friends started arguing over the Baltimore riots. One argued that the anti-police rhetoric of the protest was appalling; the other countered by decrying the clear presence of race discrimination still in the country. Both had their biases: the friend who argued on behalf of the police was the son of a police officer, while my friend who defended the protests personally knew people protesting in Baltimore. I questioned both on their positions, and ultimately, both reconsidered the other’s perspective.
However, I began to wonder: was I excusing myself from the responsibility of taking a position on key issues? Perhaps there are times that I shouldn’t merely understand both sides, but actually choose one. In biology, for example, we studied the debates over evolution and climate change. Is it my role, as an informed student, to advocate both sides of the debate, despite one side being overwhelmingly supported by scientific evidence? Maybe I must sometimes shed my identity as Devil’s advocate and instead be an advocate for my own convictions.
Although I don’t have a news (or fake news) network where I can voice my opinions, I look towards further assessing my own viewpoints while maintaining my role as an impartial academic debater. I am eager to delve into an intellectual environment that challenges me to decide when to be objective and when to embrace my bias and argue for my own beliefs.
Common App Essay Example #12
My story begins at about the age of two when I first learned what a maze was. For most people, solving mazes is a childish phase, but I enjoyed artistically designing them. Eventually, my creations jumped from their two-dimensional confinement, requiring the solver to dive through holes to the other side, or fold part of the paper over, then right back again. At around the age of eight, I invented a way for mazes to carry binary-encoded messages, with left turns and right turns representing 0s and 1s. This evolved into a base-3 maze on the surface of a tetrahedron, with crossing an edge representing a 2. For me, a blank piece of paper represented the freedom to explore new dimensions, pushing the boundaries of traditional maze making.
I found similar freedom in mathematics. Here's what I wrote when I was 9:
The object of puzzles like these was to solve for every letter, assuming they each represented a unique positive integer, and that both sides of each equation are positive. These are not typical assumptions for practical mathematics, and I didn't even need 26 equations. Upon formally learning algebra, I was dismayed that "proper math" operated under a different set of assumptions, that two variables can be equal, or be non-integers, and that you always need as many equations as variables. Yet looking back, I now see that mathematics was so inspirational because there really is no "proper" way, no convention to hold me from discovering a completely original method of thought. Math was, and still is, yet another way for me to freely express my creativity and different way of thinking without constraint.
It's all about freedom. The thoughts are there, they just need a way to escape. The greatest single advancement that delivered even more freedom was my first computer, and on it, one of the first computer games I ever played: "Maze Madness." It was a silly and simple game, but I remember being awed that I could create my own levels. Through the years, I've made thousands (not exaggerating) of levels in a variety of different computer games. I get most excited when I discover a bug that I can incorporate to add a new twist to the traditional gameplay.
A few years ago I grew tired of working within the constraints of most internet games and I wanted to program my own, so I decided to learn the language of Scratch. With it, I created several computer games, incorporating such unordinary aspects of gameplay as the avoidance of time-travel paradoxes, and the control of "jounce," the fourth derivative of position with respect to time. Eventually, I came to realize that Scratch was too limited to implement some of my ideas, so I learned C#, and my potential expanded exponentially. I continue to study programming knowing that the more I learn, the more tools I have to express my creativity.
To me, studying computer science is the next step of an evolution of boundary-breaking that has been underway since my first maze.
Common App Essay Example #13
I am [Student’s name]. I was named after my father and grandfather. I was born, raised and currently reside in the Phoenician city of Sidon, a port city in the south of Lebanon along the Mediterranean. I was raised speaking Arabic and, at age 6, I began attending French Community School where the language of instruction is French. Thus, English is my third language.
While I have been fortunate in many ways, I have had my share of challenges growing up in Lebanon. In 2006, I witnessed my first war, which broke in the south of Lebanon and resulted in the displacement of thousands of people into my hometown. Hearing the bombs and seeing the images of destruction around me certainly impacted me. However, the greater impact was working with my father to distribute basic aid to the refugees. I visited one site where three families were cramped up in one small room but still managed to make the best of the situation by playing cards and comforting each other. Working with the refugees was very rewarding and their resilience was inspiring. The refugees returned home and the areas destroyed were largely rebuilt. This experience showed me the power of community and the importance of giving back.
I am blessed with a family who has supported my ambitious academic and social pursuits. My parents have always worked hard to provide me with interesting developmental opportunities, be it a ballet performance at the Met, a Scientific Fair at Beirut Hippodrome, or a tour of London’s Houses of Parliament. Because of the value, they placed on education, my parents placed me in a competitive Catholic school despite my family’s Muslim background. Today, my close friends consist of my classmates from various religious and social backgrounds.
In 2012 and 2013, I had the opportunity to attend summer programs at UCLA and Yale University. The programs were incredibly rewarding because they gave me a taste of the excellent quality and diversity of education available in the United States. At Yale University, my roommate shared with me stories about the customs in his hometown of Shanghai. Other experiences, such as the mock board meeting of a technology company to which students from different backgrounds brought in divergent business strategies, affirmed my belief in the importance of working toward a more inclusive global community. I believe the United States, more so than any other country, can offer a challenging, engaging, and rewarding college education with opportunities for exposure to a diverse range of students from across the globe.
I intend to return to Lebanon upon graduation from college in order to carry on the legacy of my grandfather and father through developing our family business and investing in our community. My grandfather, who never graduated from high school started a small grocery store with limited resources. Through hard work, he grew his business into the largest grocery store in my hometown, Khan Supermarket. My father, who attended only one year of college, transformed it into a major shopping center.
Like my father, I grew up involved in the business and have a passion for it. I’ve worked in various roles at the store, and, in 2012, I worked on a project to implement an automated parking system, contacting vendors from around the globe and handling most of the project on my own from planning to organization and coordination. I enjoyed every bit of it, taking pride in challenging myself and helping my father.
My hard work has driven me to become the top-ranked student in my school, and I am confident that my ambition and desire to contribute to the community will ensure my success in your program. I look forward to learning from the diverse experiences of my peers and sharing my story with them, thus enriching both our learning experiences. And I look forward to becoming the first man in my family to finish college.
Common App Essay Example #14
As a kid, I was always curious. I was unafraid to ask questions and didn’t worry how dumb they would make me sound. In second grade I enrolled in a summer science program and built a solar-powered oven that baked real cookies. I remember obsessing over the smallest details: Should I paint the oven black to absorb more heat? What about its shape? A spherical shape would allow for more volume, but would it trap heat as well as conventional rectangular ovens? Even then I was obsessed with the details of design.
And it didn’t stop in second grade.
A few years later I designed my first pair of shoes, working for hours to perfect each detail, including whether the laces should be mineral white or diamond white. Even then I sensed that minor differences in tonality could make a huge impact and that different colors could evoke different responses.
In high school I moved on to more advanced projects, teaching myself how to take apart, repair, and customize cell phones. Whether I was adjusting the flex cords that connect the IPS LCD to the iPhone motherboard or replacing the vibrator motor, I loved discovering the many engineering feats Apple overcame in its efforts to combine form with function.
And once I obtained my driver’s license, I began working on cars. Many nights you’ll find me in the garage replacing standard chrome trim with an elegant piano black finish or changing the threads on the stitching of the seats to add a personal touch, as I believe a few small changes can transform a generic product into a personalized work of art.
My love of details applies to my schoolwork too.
I’m the math geek who marvels at the fundamental theorems of Calculus, or who sees beauty in A=(s(s-a)(s-b)(s-c))^(1/2). Again, it’s in the details: one bracket off or one digit missing and the whole equation collapses. And details are more than details, they can mean the difference between negative and positive infinity, an impossible range of solutions.
I also love sharing this appreciation with others and have taken it upon myself to personally eradicate mathonumophobiconfundosis, my Calculus teacher’s term for “extreme fear of Math.” A small group of other students and I have devoted our after-school time to tutoring our peers in everything from Pre-Algebra to AP Calculus B/C and I believe my fluency in Hebrew and Farsi has helped me connect with some of my school’s Israeli and Iranian students. There’s nothing better than seeing a student solve a difficult problem without me saying anything.
You probably think I want to be a designer. Or perhaps an engineer?
Wrong. Well, kind of.
Actually, I want to study Endodontics, which is (I’ll save you the Wikipedia look-up) a branch of dentistry that deals with the tooth pulp and the tissues surrounding the root of a tooth. As an Endodontist, I’ll be working to repair damaged teeth by performing precision root canals and implementing dental crowns. Sound exciting? It is to me.
The fact is, it’s not unlike the work I’ve been doing repairing cellphone circuits and modifying cars, though there is one small difference. In the future, I’ll still be working to repair machines, but this machine is one of the most sophisticated machines ever created: the human body. Here, my obsession with details will be as crucial as ever. A one-millimeter difference can mean the difference between a successful root canal and a lawsuit.
The question is: will the toothbrushes I hand out be mineral white or diamond white?
Common App Essay Example #15
The clock was remarkably slow as I sat, legs tightly crossed, squirming at my desk. “Just raise your hand,” my mind pleaded, “ask.” But despite my urgent need to visit the restroom, I remained seated, begging time to move faster. You see, I was that type of kid to eat French Fries dry because I couldn’t confront the McDonalds cashier for some Heinz packets. I was also the type to sit crying in front of school instead of asking the office if it could check on my late ride. Essentially, I chose to struggle through a problem if the solution involved speaking out against it.
My diffidence was frustrating. My parents relied on me, the only one able to speak English, to guide them, and always anticipated the best from me. However, as calls for help grew, the more defunct I became. I felt that every move I made, it was a gamble between success and failure. For me, the fear of failure and disappointment far outweighed the possibility of triumph, so I took no action and chose to silently suffer under pressure.
Near meltdown, I knew something needed to be done. Mustering up the little courage I had, I sought ways to break out of my shell—without luck. Recreational art classes ended in three boring months. I gave up Self Defense after embarrassing myself in class. After-school band, library volunteering, and book clubs ended similarly. Continued effort yielded nothing.
Disillusioned and wrung dry of ideas, I followed my mom’s advice and joined a debate club. As expected, the club only reaffirmed my self-doubt. Eye contact? Greater volume? No thanks.
But soon, the club moved on from “how to make a speech” lessons to the exploration of argumentation. We were taught to speak the language of Persuasion and play the game of Debate. Eventually, I fell in love with it all.
By high school, I joined the school debate team, began socializing, and was even elected to head several clubs. I developed critical and analytical thinking skills and learned how to think and speak spontaneously.
I became proud and confident. Moreover, I became eager to play my role in the family, and family relations strengthened. In fact, nowadays, my parents are interested in my school’s newest gossip.
Four years with debate, and now I’m the kid up at the whiteboard; the kid leading discussions, and the kid standing up for her beliefs.
More importantly, I now confront issues instead of avoiding them. It is exciting to discover solutions to problems that affect others, as I was able to do as part of the 1st Place team for the 2010 United Nations Global Debates Program on climate change and poverty. I take a natural interest in global issues and plan to become a foreign affairs analyst or diplomat by studying international affairs with a focus on national identity.
In particular, I am interested in the North-South Korean tension. What irreconcilable differences have prompted a civilization to separate? Policy implications remain vague, and sovereignty theories have their limits—how do we determine what compromises are to be made? And on a personal level, why did my grandfather have to flee from his destroyed North Korean hometown--and why does it matter?
I see a reflection of myself in the divide at the 38th parallel because I see one part isolating itself in defense to outside threats, and another part coming out to face the world as one of the fastest-developing nations. Just as my shy persona before the debate and extroverted character after debate are both parts of who I am, the Korean civilization is also one. And just as my parents expect much from me, the first of my family to attend college, I have grand expectations for this field of study.
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How to Write the Common App Essay [With Examples]
Our updated guide on how to write the common app essay contains everything you need to steer your students through the 2022/23 application cycle, including annotated examples. .
One of the most effective ways of learning is by seeing things in action. And that's no different when it comes to university applications. That's why so many students - and their advisers - are keen to see things like Common App examples of essays and other application materials.
Well, you're in luck. We've got just that, and much more advice and guidance, in this handy guide!
If you have students who are looking to study at a university in the US, then there is a high probability they will submit some of their applications through the Common App. After all, it's the most widely used admissions platform for US university applicants (though it’s also possible to apply to destinations outside the US).
Over 800 higher education institutions accept applications through the Common App. This helps to speed up the admissions process , since students only have to submit relevant personal information once.
Download your free Common App essay worksheet
Download our free worksheet, complete with templates and tips designed to help your students plan and write a truly original and individual Common App essay.
In addition to relevant high school transcripts, test scores, information on extra-curricular activities and parent/legal guardian information, all students applying to university through the Common App must submit a standard application essay.
The Common App essay prompts changed back in 2021 for the first time since 2017 , reminding us just how important it is to stay up-to-date with the latest developments.
But don’t worry, we’ve got your back!
In our updated guide to the Common App essay for the 2022/23 application cycle, we’ll explore the updated essay prompts and explain how you can support your students as they write their applications. We've also included some Common App examples for maximum clarity!
What are the Common App Essay Prompts 2022/23?
There are seven Common App essay prompts for 2022/23. Each is designed to give students the opportunity to explore who they are, what they want from a college education, and their core beliefs and values.
Each of the Common App essay prompts will encourage students to explore a different facet of their background and their personality.
Let’s explore each in more detail.
How to write Common App Essay 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 is a wonderfully open Common App essay prompt.
What’s it asking? In short, it’s inviting students to talk about any aspect of their culture, experiences or education that they feel is deeply meaningful to them.
Specifically, college admissions committees want to know how a student’s experiences have shaped them and defined them. Let’s break up each component part of this essay prompt, and look at how students could approach them.
In short, this is anything about a student’s background that they feel has shaped them. It could be something about their family history, background or lineage. It might be a sport, interest or talent they had when they were younger that has informed them as a teenager.
This could be racial identity, sexual orientation, or even a religious belief. But students shouldn’t be afraid to expand their definition. Being a member of a sports team, a band, or even an online gamer could constitute an ‘identity’ for some of your students.
Again, a student’s interests can cover all manner of things. What’s most important when writing about interests is that it has to be something without which their application would be incomplete .
To use an example, you may have a student who is an avid bookworm. This is quite general interests, so it would be necessary for students to talk about something very specific. What have they learned from their favourite books? How has reading shaped their worldview, or their sense of themselves?
How to write Common App Essay 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, fundamentally, is trying to get students to think about how they overcome adversity and how they learn from mistakes. Can students prove that they confront setbacks without giving up?
There are a number of ways students can approach this prompt. They could talk about one, big failure that completely redefined who they are, or a series of smaller, inter-connected failures that are somehow linked.
Examples of ways that students could answer this question is by talking about a class they failed, or a subject at school they have continually failed to master.
Alternatively, encourage students to think about a more social/emotional failure. Maybe they’ve had a falling out with a friend because they failed to consider the other person’s point of view or feelings, or maybe they’ve fallen out with a family member.
Again, the key here is specificity. Students who opt for this prompt shouldn’t spend a lot of time sweating what failure they pick – they need to focus on the specificity of what they learned, and how it changed them as a person.
How to Write Common App Essay Prompt 3
"reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea what prompted your thinking what was the outcome” .
Some students might be put off by this prompt because they may (mistakenly) feel that they haven’t been sufficiently politically active or championed a particular social cause.
But it’s important not to misunderstand this prompt. As with all of the Common App essay questions, this is an invitation for a student to talk about a more personal, singular worldview.
There are arguably two ways a student could approach this prompt.
- By discussing a time they took a minority view against the majority opinion.
- By reflecting on a time that their own deeply-held belief was challenged or placed under scrutiny.
Again, you should encourage your students to look for very specific, real-world ways that they can answer this question.
For example, it may be that they have done some voluntary or community work that has affected how they feel about political issue like homelessness or care for the elderly. They might have completed an internship that has taught them something about how to run/operate a business. They could even have run a social media campaign for a school event, and learned something about the power of marketing!
In short, there’s probably a story in their recent past somewhere, they just need to know where to look!
But here’s the most important thing to remember: this prompt is about the writer going on a journey. In a relatively short space of time, a student needs to tell a story of change, reflection and growth.
Our advice? Don’t tackle this prompt unless there’s a good story in there somewhere!
How to write Common App Essay Prompt 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".
This is the new prompt for 2021/22 and it replaces the old prompt 4 from previous application cycles.
“ 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.”
The Common App recently explained that they retired the old prompt because it wasn’t being widely chosen by college applicants.
Common App introduced this new prompt last year by explaining that it was "inspired by scientific research on gratitude and kindness, specifically the benefits of writing about the positive influence of other people in our lives," with President and CEO Jenny Rickard adding: "particularly at this challenging time, we can help students think about something positive and heartfelt in their lives. And we can do it explicitly.”
In other words, this prompt is designed to encourage students to think about the role gratitude has played in their lives!
“Particularly at this challenging time, we can help students think about something positive and heartfelt in their lives. And we can do it explicitly.”
Jenny Rickard: President & CEO, The Common App
But, as with all of the Common App essay prompts, it’s important for them to reflect on how this gratitude has changed them. Remember that, as with all of the Common App essay prompts, it’s important for students to tell a story.
As ever with Common App essay prompts, you should encourage your students to be creative in their definition of something they’re grateful for.
For example, it could be a physical gift or a gesture of kindness, support or selflessness from someone. They could have learned a valuable or life-altering lesson from a significant person in their lives - and this person could be someone they’re very close to (e.g. a family member or close friend) or even a stranger or passing acquaintance who has shaped their life in some way.
But it’s important for any of your students tackling this prompt to remember that the ‘something’ or the ‘someone’ of their story isn’t the point of the story. Instead they should reflect on how that something or someone, that unique moment of kindness or inspiration has affected their personal growth.
And don’t forget that the prompt asks students to reflect on a moment that made them “happy or thankful in a surprising way”. The key word here is ‘surprising’. So encourage your students to think about a story that’s really unique to them.
Finally, remember that this story, whatever it may be, has to relate back to the sort of person that your student is today! How did this unexpected moment of gratitude impact their life?
Let’s say that one of your students decided to write about a time that a teacher was particularly harsh about an assignment or piece of school work they handed in.
Perhaps the teacher’s feedback was so negative, it made the student feel very deflated or demoralised at that moment in time. Perhaps they worried that they were going to fail in this particular class, or questioned their ability.
But then this setback had the effect of making the student work harder, set their standards higher and meant that they really improved in that particular class or subject.
The student’s unexpected gratitude could come from the fact that their teacher taught them a resilience or a commitment to high standards, that they've found useful in their subsequent time at school. Maybe this newfound resilience defines who they are today - and has informed their higher education aspirations.
How to write Common App Essay Prompt 5
“discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.”.
Prompt 5 is designed to get students to talk about a key milestone in their life, and how it affected them. In short, this question is asking a student – “when and how have they grown as a person?”
Again, situations that are as specific and meaningful as possible will really help an essay stand out. Some examples of some useful milestones students could write about for this prompt include:
- Voting for the first time.
- Passing an important test or exam.
- Becoming an older sibling.
- A religious ceremony or rite of passage, e.g. a baptism or Bar-Mitzvah.
It doesn’t have to be a big milestone either. Students could equally write about a small, but nonetheless significant moment in their lives, such as the moment that a parent or family member taught them to cook, or even just a memorable birthday.
How to write Common App Essay Prompt 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”.
This is a great prompt to encourage students to share their intellectual passions and interests. After all, it’s important to remember that US universities and colleges are interested in students who are intellectually engaged!
For students interested in this topic, the world is their oyster! But it’s important that, if they choose to answer this prompt, they approach it from an intellectual perspective. A student could write about their love of the Star Wars universe if they want to – but they need to explain why they find this intellectually stimulating or engaging.
For this prompt, it’s also important that students pick a topic that they are genuinely passionate about. It’s important they don’t choose this question because they want to show off!
How to write Common App Essay 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.”.
As you can see from this prompt, it gives students an inordinate amount of freedom to talk about whatever they want!
If you are working with students who want to use this as a topic, then make sure that they are linking their essay back to them, their intellectual interests, personal achievements and background.
It’s important to remember some of the secrets to success in Prompts 1-6. Students should keep their answers specific, personal to them and, most importantly, find a way to tell a good story.
Tips for students brainstorming the Common App essay
Before your students start their Common App essay, it’s worth encouraging them to make notes on how they can demonstrate the core qualities which admissions officers will look for in any application. Students need to think about how they can demonstrate the following.
The ability to collaborate, and demonstrate teamwork is something which university admissions staff will be looking for. Encourage your students to think about a moment where they learned the value of teamwork.
Work Experience & Extracurricular Activities
Ask your students to make a note of any extracurricular activities which may connect with their academic passions and interests. Extracurricular activities are a great way for students to demonstrate relevant leadership and organisational skills and reflect on any experiences or challenges which they have overcome.
Leadership & entrepreneurial activities
The Common App essay needs to be a truly individual piece of work, and the ability to demonstrate leadership, or entrepreneurial drive, will in turn help students to illustrate that they have the ability to be innovative and forward thinking. Ask students to make notes on the following:
- Can they demonstrate the ability to put an idea into action?
- Can they name a time when they’ve started something (a business venture, a club, a creative project), and/or pushed it to be bigger and better?
- Have they achieved something noteworthy or unusual?
Students should think about how they can demonstrate a care for the wider community and/or the welfare of others, whether it’s through volunteering or any of their other extracurricular activities. Community service is a great way to demonstrate citizenship and a sense of social responsibility.
Students writing their Common App essay will be asked to demonstrate an understanding of other cultures, or the ability to speak another language. Encourage your students to think about any traveling or time abroad which may inform their university application.
Bonus Resource – Download our free worksheet and template that will help your students plan and write a truly original and individual Common App essay. Click here to download
How to write the Common App essay [top tips for your students]
Whilst students have a range of essay topics to choose from, it’s also worth remembering that all the Common App essay prompts are designed to encourage respondents to cover several important themes.
So, as your students prepare to to write their Common App essay , it’s important that they ask the following questions.
- Which personal experience from my life will make an interesting story?
- How can my essay tell a story and keep a reader interested?
- How can I best illustrate moments in my life which have changed/defined me?
- Will this story show me in my best light?
These questions should inform every section of the Common App essay, and will allow students’ responses to be that much more structured and coherent.
How to get the opening line right
The importance of the opening line in the Common App essay can’t be understated. It’s a chance for applicants to demonstrate flair, originality and wit, and to really grab the reader’s attention. That’s why brainstorming the opening line is an important exercise in itself.
Check out these powerful Common App opening lines from students at some of our BridgeU partner schools. These openers also come highly rated from US admissions staff .
“I almost didn’t live through September 11th, 2001 – Stanford University
“ I have a secret. Every day, after school, I come home late.” – Harvard University
Both these opening lines have short, sharp sentences which instantly grab the reader’s attention and offer intrigue as to the potential topic the essay could be covering. Both immediately offer the promise of an essay which will be story-driven and dramatic. Both openings also suggest a story which will be about a life-changing event in the writer’s life.
In short, these opening lines make the reader want to know more.
How to tell a vivid story
Vivid storytelling, and the ability to hone a narrative is vital when writing the Common App essay. Here are some essential components of a great essay which are worth considering and practicing.
Descriptive language and vivid imagery
“Swinging open the door of my sheltered dorm room, I dashed through the corridor, veering towards the lounge. My sister, intermittently coherent, was acquainting me with the morning’s events. It was the 7th of July, and four suicide bombs had detonated in London. The city itself, typically a bustling, urban jungle, had been paralysed ; tourists, office-workers, and residents were trapped like foxes in their holes .”
This is a sample from an essay that discusses the terrorist attack in London on July 7, 2005. Not only does this essay tell a compelling story of the applicant’s experience of what was a traumatic and newsworthy event, but its use of vivid imagery and descriptive language is very powerful.
For example, consider the description that London “had been paralysed”; personifying the city of London in this way helps to demonstrate the writer’s empathy and awareness. It’s also a much more effective use of imagery than simply saying something like “London was at a standstill”.
Getting personal – sharing passions/things that are important to the writer
Each day, I was used to reading and talking about current events. Understanding world events is my passion . Evaluating their importance is my responsibility. Today, however, these same events were threatening to tear my life apart.
I tried to imagine how any religion could not only condone but encourage these actions . I thought about how our Western culture had become irredeemably intertwined with other cultures, all of which seemed mutually uncomprehending. Wasn’t achieving a greater level of cross-culturalism meant to be a good thing?
These are two further excerpts from the same essay. In this extract, we gain an insight into the writer’s personal passions. These two extracts tell us about a time where the writer realised that something they were normally passionate about could, in their own words, tear their life apart.
The writer prides themself on their ability to make sense of world events – this was an event they struggled to make sense of, a moment when their status quo was challenged.
Collapsed on the sofa, I realised that the mission I had chosen, to convince my school community to connect with the rest of the world, to some extent was no longer necessary. July 7th, like September 11th, would do the job for me. I got through that day, as did my family, physically unscathed, but emotionally charged. We all have a choice: to connect with the rest of the world or to cut it off . The events of that morning reaffirmed my choice. Non-interventionism is no alternative. Hell is not other people.
The writer uses powerful storytelling techniques to end their essay, and shows that they end their account of the July 7 having gone on a journey. Having faced a moment where their life was thrown into chaos, the writer reaffirms their decision to connect with the rest of the world.
So why is this Common App essay so successful?
Put simply, it creates a compelling picture of both the writer’s worldview, and their aspirations for the future. It effectively demonstrates the writer’s core values by dramatising a moment when those values were called into question.
Did You Know? – BridgeU is integrated with the Common App
BridgeU's integration with the Common App allows for an easier transfer of data, enabling counselors to more easily send supporting documents, via BridgeU, to Common App institutions. This will help to smooth the application journey for students wishing to study at a Common App university.
If you’d like to know more about how this new integration could help your school, contact us at [email protected]
Writing the Common App essay: final checklist
As your students prepare to submit their Common App essays, make sure that they are paying attention to the following checklist.
- Is their Common App essay telling a compelling story about them?
- Does their essay contain a powerful opening line?
- Are they using descriptive language and vivid imagery?
- Are they writing with passion?
- Is the essay portraying them in the best possible light?
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