How to Write the Common App Essay Prompts (2023-24)

The college application process can be an overwhelming journey, with applicants eagerly seeking a way to stand out in a sea of impressive candidates. The Common Application essay emerges as a pivotal opportunity for students to showcase their true selves beyond mere statistics. Meticulously designed, each essay prompt serves as a window into the applicant’s character and experiences, allowing admissions officers to glean meaningful insights. In this blog article, we delve into a comprehensive exploration of the Common App essay prompts, providing tips and guidance to empower students in crafting essays that captivate, inspire, and leave an indelible mark on the minds of admission committees. Step into the spotlight of self-expression as we navigate this transformative path together.

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.

To tackle this prompt, delve into your background or identity with sincerity and authenticity. Consider the experiences, values, and traditions that have shaped you into the person you are today. Showcase the unique perspective your cultural background or identity brings to your life and the lives of those around you. Highlight any challenges you’ve faced and how they have strengthened your character. Don’t hesitate to share anecdotes and specific examples that showcase your passions and values.

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?

When addressing this prompt, remember that admissions officers are not only interested in the obstacle itself but also in your response to it. Be candid about the emotions you experienced during the challenging period, and describe the steps you took to overcome the setback. Emphasize the qualities you discovered within yourself, such as resilience, determination, or adaptability. Reflect on how this experience has shaped your approach to future challenges and influenced your personal growth.

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

Approach this prompt with intellectual curiosity and critical thinking. Describe the belief or idea that you questioned, providing context for its significance in your life. Explain what triggered your doubts and how you embarked on a journey of self-exploration and research. Analyze the impact of this transformative experience on your beliefs, values, and relationships. Admissions officers will admire your ability to challenge conventional thinking and your willingness to embrace change.

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?

When addressing gratitude, show how an act of kindness had a profound impact on your life. Share the details of the gesture and how it affected you emotionally and mentally. Describe the ways in which this experience has motivated you to reciprocate kindness and become an agent of positive change. Highlight any specific actions you’ve taken to pay it forward and make a difference in your community. Admissions officers value applicants who show empathy and a willingness to contribute positively to the world around them.

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

For this prompt, focus on personal growth and self-awareness. Describe the accomplishment, event, or realization that led to profound changes in your life. Explain how this experience altered your perspective and understanding of yourself or others. Share how you have applied the insights gained from this transformative moment to your daily life and relationships. Admissions officers will appreciate your ability to reflect on your experiences and learn from them.

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?

When addressing your passions, be specific and enthusiastic. Choose a topic, idea, or concept that genuinely excites you and explore the reasons behind your fascination with it. Share how you pursue knowledge in this area beyond what is required academically. Discuss the resources you turn to, such as mentors, books, online courses, or clubs, to further your understanding. Articulate how this passion aligns with your academic and career goals, demonstrating your commitment to lifelong learning.

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.

With this prompt, you have the creative freedom to showcase your unique voice. Choose a topic that allows you to share an aspect of your life or personality that hasn’t been covered in the other prompts. Ensure that the essay presents a compelling narrative and highlights your values, strengths, and ambitions. Use this opportunity to express your creativity and demonstrate your ability to engage readers with your writing style.

Final Thoughts

As a professional college counselor, I encourage you to approach each prompt with honesty, self-reflection, and enthusiasm. Admissions officers are not seeking cookie-cutter stories or generic accounts. When crafting your Common App essay, it’s crucial to remember that your personal experiences form the heart and soul of your narrative. The best essays will be the ones that delve deep into your life’s journey, shedding light on the challenges you’ve faced, the lessons you’ve learned, and the growth you’ve experienced. No one else has lived your life or walked in your shoes, so the most compelling essays will showcase the distinct perspectives and insights that only you can provide.

The essay is an opportunity to connect with admissions officers on a personal level and to showcase your potential as a valuable addition to their college community. With careful thought and authentic storytelling, you can create a memorable college essay that sets you apart from the competition and opens the door to your dream college.