Why the 2018-2019 Common Application Essay Prompts Make Your Job Easier
Some years, students go into the essays blind. The prompts are new and untested. Sometimes the format or length even changes. This can be a daunting prospect.
In years when the prompts remain the same, though, you have some examples to work from. Your guidance counselor and college admissions counselors are familiar with them and have worked with students on the same prompts before. You might even be able to read examples from past students to get your creative juices flowing.
In addition, if you have the time and feel the itch to get started, you can take advantage of the Common Application account rollover feature to start an application now, and roll it over to complete in the fall when your application period officially begins.
While we generally advise students to begin working on their applications during the summer before senior year, there’s nothing wrong with starting earlier if you have a good handle on the other things you need to tackle during junior year, like standardized testing, APs, and your regular school and extracurricular commitments. If you’re one of those students who writes best during an inspired moment of creativity, by all means capture the moment no matter when it arrives.
Other Ways to Prepare for the Common Application Before Senior Year
Many high school juniors wonder what they can be doing now to get started working towards their Common Applications. While our advice to wait until the summer before senior year remains the same, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain skills you can develop or details to tackle now.
First, work hard to improve your writing as much as possible. Your personal essay prompts are your chance to really shine as an individual and set yourself apart from a pool of similarly qualified candidates. This means you’ll need to develop a sense of voice in your written work that is both polished and personal. You can do this by writing frequently, paying attention to the feedback you get on written work from teachers across all subject areas, and by joining writing groups or tutoring sessions. Improving your writing skills is one of the most important things you can do to prepare for college applications.
To learn more about improving your writing skills, see these posts:
How to Sharpen Your Writing Skills
Parents: 10 Easy Ways to Help Your Teen Become a Better Writer
Another way to prepare for the Common Application is to begin initial brainstorming about the essay prompts. For some students, the choice of which prompt to tackle is obvious immediately. For others, it takes much longer to make a decision. It’s a good idea to begin a list of possible essay topics. They might fit with a specific prompt, or they may just make good essay fodder to be sculpted into a prompt later. Also, remember that the last prompt allows you to submit an existing essay or even create your own prompt. Keep your eyes and ears open to compile a diverse and eclectic mix of topics to choose from when the time comes.
If you’re a high school junior getting ready to consider the 2018-2019 college application season, don’t miss these important CollegeVine posts:
A User’s Guide to the Common Application
FAQ About the Race/Ethnicity Section of the Common Application
A Guide to the ‘Demographics’ Page of the Common Application
A Guide to the Education Section of the Common App
How to Master the ‘Honors’ Section of the Common App
For more personalized advice, consider the benefits of CollegeVine’s Applications Guidance service. Here, you’ll be paired with a personal admissions specialist who can provide step-by-step guidance through the entire application process, including how to perfect your approach to the personal essay.
For more about writing application essays, check out these CollegeVine posts:
What If I Don’t Have Anything Interesting To Write About In My College Essay?
How to Write a Last Minute Essay
How to Write the Common Application Essays 2017-2018
Whom Should I Ask for Help with My College Essay?
With college admissions as competitive as it is today, the application essay can mean the difference between an acceptance or rejection letter.
Admissions officers are increasingly turning to the essay as a means of evaluating students. Many applicants fail to take advantage of the essay—they choose the wrong question, write about an inappropriate topic, or just fail to put together a compelling essay.
So, what should applicants write about? Here, we breakdown the six questions from this year’s Common Application, an online application accepted by more than 450 colleges and universities. (Even colleges that don’t accept the Common App tend to have essay prompts that are the same or similar.)
[Get the ebook on how to make your college essay stand out here!]
1. Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk, or ethical dilemma and its impact on you.
Consider any experience or achievement that is significant to you—it can be big or small. Perhaps you found working with children rewarding because you want to be a teacher someday, or perhaps you created your own workout regimen to get fit. Make sure not to dwell on the experience—instead, talk about how you or your outlook changed because of it. Fewer students will talk about a risk they’ve taken, but remember: It doesn’t have to be bungee jumping! It can be saying no to peer pressure and risking your friendships. If you choose to write about an ethical dilemma, use caution—you don’t want admissions officers questioning your moral integrity.
2. Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.
Here’s a chance to give more context about you. If the matter is personal, that’s easy to do. But if it’s a national or international issue, then it’s tempting to talk about the environment or the war-torn Middle East, for example. But do we learn about you? Make sure the issue ties into your personal experiences and interests.
3. Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.
Don’t tell admissions officers too much about your “influential person.” Instead, talk a little bit about the person, but mostly about how you have changed or reacted because of that person. Maybe you found an academic passion or hobby because of favorite teacher or coach; maybe you changed how you treat others because of the character of a family member or close friend.
4. Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work that has had an influence on you, and explain why.
This is a hard question for most students to answer—again, you don’t want to talk too much about that character, historical figure, or creative work, but instead, describe their influence on you. Perhaps a building’s unique design influenced your desire to study architecture. Maybe a lead character’s actions in a movie or novel oddly paralleled your own actions. Note: If you’re going to write about a fictional character, avoid very common novels that most students read in high school, and instead use a novel that you read independently—it’ll help you stand out.
5. Describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.
Consider diversity in many ways—your geography, academic interests, family background, religion, race, and ethnicity. How would you contribute to a college? Or what do you hope to learn from others who are different from you at that school?
6. The topic of your choice.
If you’re applying to a college that does not accept the Common App, you’ll have to answer their specific essay questions. However, keep in mind that you can simply use that essay for your other applications as well. If it is an open-ended prompt, ask and then answer your own question—it’ll show off your creative side.
Colleges want to get to know more about you. Write clearly and show colleges how you think and what you will contribute to the campus. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which question you choose—it’s what you do with the answer that matters most.