Most college and university applications aren't due for quite a few more months, but if you're out of school for the summer, or you're about to be, why not take a look at the prompts - which are the same as last year's - and see which makes your heart beat a little faster than the others? Remember, choose 1 of 5, and your word limit is 650.
Prompt 1: Background, identity, interest or talent: 47 percent of the applicants selected this
Prompt 2: A lesson from failure: 17 percent selected
Prompt 3: Challenging an idea: 4 percent selected
Prompt 4: Solving a problem: 10 percent selected
Prompt 5: An accomplishment that marks adulthood: 22 percent selected
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.
--- It’s not surprising that this is so popular. It invites every kind of life story: growing up as a triplet, growing up with a particular hardship or passion (reading, wilderness, music, gymnastics), or even a special responsibility you have in your household. As always, the essay should strike a balance between describing the experience or activity and revealing its value. Head for a 50/50 split - or at least 65/35, story vs. its meaning to you.
2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
--- I generally don’t direct students to one prompt or another. I prefer to let their story determine the best prompt, but if a student has a strong record, intense interests, or a special experience, I usually steer them away from this prompt. Yes, we all fail, and most of us learn from failure, but unless this is the predominant story a student has, I encourage them - in the words of a famous 1940s song - to “accentuate the positive.”
--- This is the least popular prompt of all for the Common App in general and in my work, too. Nearly everyone takes a quick pass on this. The two students who chose it both challenged religious beliefs while in religious settings. They were both terrific essays!
--- While only ten percent of Common App applicants did this prompt, among my students, the figure was higher. I think it can be a great way to reveal a student’s interests, creativity, critical thinking skills, and initiative. One student who lived in a drought area wrote about his efforts to build a water desalination machine, another about wanting to solve the crumbling infrastructure problem in the U.S., and a third about how volunteering in a local school helped her resolve a difficult relationship with her father.
--- Another popular prompt! Quite often the story a student tells in this prompt is the same he or she tells in Prompt No. 1, with a different emphasis. This can be more challenging to write because you have to lay out “before and after” the big moment, which is tough to do in 650 words. But if that’s the story that reveals what you want colleges to know, it can be done, and often is. I encourage students to look at either a single event or periods in their lives - a month, a summer, a semester - after which they felt much more mature.