Typical college entrance essay prompts

However you approach this prompt, your essay needs to reveal one of your core personal values.


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If the belief you challenged doesn't give the admissions folks a window into your personality, then you haven't succeeded with this prompt. 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. With the ability to write about an "intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma," you can essentially write about any issue that you find important. Note that you do not have to have solved the problem, and some of the best essays will explore problems that need to be solved in the future.

Be careful with that opening word "describe"—you'll want to spend much more time analyzing the problem than describing it. This essay prompt, like all of the options, is asking you to be introspective and share with the admissions folks what it is that you value. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

This question was reworded in admissions cycle, and the current language is a huge improvement. The prompt use to talk about transitioning from childhood to adulthood, but the new language about a "period of personal growth" is a much better articulation of how we actually learn and mature no single event makes us adults.

Maturity comes as the result of a long train of events and accomplishments and failures. This prompt is an excellent choice if you want to explore a single event or achievement that marked a clear milestone in your personal development.

College Admissions Essay Topics to Avoid

Be careful to avoid the "hero" essay—admissions offices are often overrun with essays about the season-winning touchdown or brilliant performance in the school play see the list of bad essay topics for more about this issue. These can certainly be fine topics for an essay, but make sure your essay is analyzing your personal growth process, not bragging about an accomplishment.


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  • What to Know About the Common Application Essay Prompts.
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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 option was entirely new in , and it's a wonderfully broad prompt. In essence, it's asking you to identify and discuss something that enthralls you. The question gives you an opportunity to identify something that kicks your brain into high gear, reflect on why it is so stimulating, and reveal your process for digging deeper into something that you are passionate about.

Note that the central words here—"topic, idea, or concept"—all have rather academic connotations.

What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

While you may lose track of time when running or playing football, sports are probably not the best choice for this particular question. 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. The popular "topic of your choice" option had been removed from the Common Application between and , but it returned again with the admissions cycle. Use this option if you have a story to share that doesn't quite fit into any of the options above.

However, the first six topics are extremely broad with a lot of flexibility, so make sure your topic really can't be identified with one of them.


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Also, don't equate "topic of your choice" with a license to write a comedy routine or poem you can submit such things via the "Additional Info" option. Essays written for this prompt still need to have substance and tell your reader something about you. Cleverness is fine, but don't be clever at the expense of meaningful content. Whichever prompt you chose, make sure you are looking inward.

What do you value? What has made you grow as a person? What makes you the unique individual the admissions folks will want to invite to join their campus community? The best essays spend significant time with self-analysis rather than merely describing a place or event. The folks at The Common Application have cast a wide net with these questions, and nearly anything you want to write about could fit under at least one of the options. If your essay could fit under more than one option, it really doesn't matter which one you choose.

Many admissions officers, in fact, don't even look at which prompt you chose—they just want to see that you have written a good essay. Share Flipboard Email. Allen Grove is an Alfred University English professor and a college admissions expert with 20 years of experience helping students transition to college.

You can even write your own question! Whatever topic you land on, the essentials of a standout college essay still stand: 1. Show the admissions committee who you are beyond grades and test scores and 2. Dig into your topic by asking yourself how and why. Individual schools sometimes require supplemental essays.

Here are a few popular application essay topics and some tips for how to approach them:. Avoid the urge to pen an ode to a beloved figure like Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln. The admissions committee doesn't need to be convinced they are influential people. Focus on yourself: Choose someone who has actually caused you to change your behavior or your worldview, and write about how this person influenced you.

Be honest and specific when you respond to this question. Use the college's website and literature to do your research about programs, professors, and other opportunities that appeal to you. Your answer should not be a book report. Don't just summarize the plot; detail why you enjoyed this particular text and what it meant to you.

Choose Your Test

What does your favorite book reveal about you? How do you identify with it, and how has it become personal to you? Again, be honest in answering this question—don't choose a classic from your literature class or a piece of philosophy just because you think it will make you seem smarter.

UC Essay Prompts to Craft a Good Admission Paper

Writing fluently and passionately about a book close to you is always better than writing shakily or generally about a book that doesn't inspire you. Take this opportunity to really examine an experience that taught you something you didn't previously know about yourself, got you out of your comfort zone, or forced you to grow. Sometimes it's better to write about something that was hard for you because you learned something than it is to write about something that was easy for you because you think it sounds admirable.

As with all essay questions, the most important thing is to tell a great story: how you discovered this activity, what drew you to it, and what it's shown you about yourself. Get one-on-one help from former Ivy League and top tier admission officers. Our College Admission Counselors will help you find, apply, and get accepted to your dream school. Learn More. Connect with our featured colleges to find schools that both match your interests and are looking for students like you. Teach or Tutor for Us. College Readiness. All Rights Reserved.

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Common Application Essay Prompts: Tips, Samples

Recently viewed. Find Your Dream School. By submitting my email address. I certify that I am 13 years of age or older, agree to recieve marketing email messages from The Princeton Review, and agree to Terms of Use. If you are using the Common App to apply for college admission in , you will have — words to respond to ONE of the following prompts: 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.

Brainstorming tips for your college essay

Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?