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What to Know About the Common Application Essay Prompts

A few weeks ago, the Common Application announced its essay prompts for the 2018-2019 admissions cycle. Here is what juniors, sophomores, and freshmen need to know:

  1. For the current juniors, the Class of 2019, the essay prompts will remain the same as last year. There are currently seven prompts to choose from. The prompts are incredibly open and flexible, allowing students to write about almost any topic they could think of.
  2. For younger students, it's important to note that every other year the Common Application surveys students, counselors and admissions officers to gauge how effective the prompts are. So be on the lookout for some small tweaks or possibly new prompts for the Class of 2020.
  3. Some high schools require junior English classes to write an essay draft. This is good practice, but these drafts typically pale in comparison to what the student can write during the summer after junior year. Trust me on this one. The draft writing exercise typically happens during one of the busiest weeks of junior year, and the drafts usually suffer because of it. I can't tell you what a difference having junior year in the rearview mirror can do for a student's creativity. 
  4. Don't get hung up on the prompts. Why? Because in 20 years in this field I have never heard of an essay topic from a student that doesn't fit one of the prompts. And if you don't believe me, check out the seventh prompt which allows a student to write about a topic of their choice. 
  5. There are some colleges that won't require an essay. In fact, students can do a "college search" on the Common App site to determine which schools require or don't require the main essay.

    "Wondering if a #college requires the main Common App essay? Do a search on the Common App site." TWEET THIS

  6. If a college makes the essay optional, do it. For a close case, the essay can help a student get admitted because they took the time to write it.
  7. The essay can be as long as 650 words. Words matter. The best essays that I read are in the 600 to 650 word range. Anything shorter and the topic is often not fully developed. 
  8. The best thing a student can do, regardless of their grade in high school, is to start a list of possible topics to write about when the time comes. The topic is just as important as the way the essay is written. 
  9. The more selective colleges will usually require additional essays or short answer responses on their supplements. Supplements are not updated until August 1st and some colleges will change their prompts from year to year. So wait until August to confirm and start writing responses and essays from the supplements.
  10. Any student can open up an account on the Common App to begin to develop their college list and take a look at the different sections of the application. There is a rollover option which saves any information the student inputs for future years. The best time to fill out the Common App is after junior year when most of the student's academic and extracurricular information is updated. 

There are many application options for college bound students. The Common Application is still the most widely accepted application. Even if a student ends up applying to colleges that aren't subscribers to the Common App, they will most likely use their Common App essay for other applications (or scholarship submissions). The Common App essay prompts are general enough that a student's essay can be used again and again throughout the admissions process.