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Reuse Common App Essay Prompts

The Common Application has announced that the 2018-2019 personal essay writing prompts will be the same as the seven 2017-2018 essay prompts. By conducting a review process every other year, rather than annually, we can hear from admissions officers, as well as applicants, parents, and counselors, about the effectiveness of the essay prompts. 

With the announcement of the essay prompts and the ability for applicants to roll over their Common App account each year, counselors can introduce their juniors to the Common App now to help them start thinking about the application process. For more information, go to Common App Ready, a series of ready-to-use resources, presentations, training videos, and handouts covering everything from account creation through submission. Last year, we expanded this free tool with Spanish language translations. 

2018-2019 Common Application Essay Prompts

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. 

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? 

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

4. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. 

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

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? 

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. 

The most popular essay prompt of the 2017-2018 application year (through January 5, 2018) is "Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth..." (23.6%), followed by the topic of your choice option (22.5%), and "Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful..." (21.4%). 

"Through the Common App essay prompts, we want to give all applicants - regardless of background or access to counseling - the opportunity to share their voice with colleges. Every applicant has a unique story. The essay helps bring that story to life," said Meredith Lombardi, Associate Director, Outreach and Education, for The Common Application.

A father at a seminar last week asked me,

“Is it OK for a student to re-use a college essay for multiple colleges?”

Great stories for college essays tend to be recyclable.  They have a lot of details and angles to them.  And if something really was important to you, you can apply that significance to a lot of college essay prompts.

But there’s a difference between reusing a story and reusing the exact same essay.

We once worked with a student who wrote an essay about how she had lost every election she’d ever run for in high school, but that each time she lost, she shrugged off the defeat and found another activity where she could be successful.  It was a funny, self-deprecating peek into her personality and it helped the admissions officers get to know her better.

That story had a lot of meaning to it, so much so that it was actually the basis of a great response to several college essay prompts like,

“Describe a time when you failed or made a mistake.  What did you learn from the experience?”

“What is a talent, skill, activity, accomplishment or personal quality that makes you proud?”

“How do you hope to contribute to our campus community?”

“Describe a time when you faced a challenge or adversity.”

Each time she reused the story, many of the details were the same, but she tailored the essay to answer the prompt.  Those tailored versions addressed what each prompt was asking for—what she learned, why it made her proud, how she knew she wouldn’t be afraid to fail in college, and how she faced the challenge of getting over the losses.  She wasn’t taking a shortcut; that experience really was the basis for her honest response to each prompt.  When her real answer to a prompt had nothing to do with losing elections, she wrote different essays.  But her “I am a good loser” essay worked for the essay prompts at over half her colleges.

There’s nothing wrong with recycling a story especially if it helps the admissions office get to know you and it does a great job answering the prompt.  But make sure you give each recycled version a little tailoring.  Don’t just resubmit the same essay.  Use the story as the basis and tailor the writing to each college’s prompt.

Filed Under: College essays

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