We are pleased to share the 2017-2018 Common Application essay prompts with you. The changes you see below reflect the feedback of 108 Common App member colleges and more than 5,000 other Common App constituents, as well as consultation with our advisory committees and Board of Directors. Students represented the single largest share of constituent survey respondents (59%), followed by school counselors (23%), and teachers (11%).
Read: You Have a Story to Tell. Colleges Want to Read It.and The Common App Essay Prompts Are Changing.
We were gratified to learn that 91% of members and 90% of constituents agree or strongly agree that the current prompts are effective. In addition, the narrative comments we received helped us see areas for improvement in three of the prompts. Working in close consultation with the counselors and admission officers on our advisory committees, we revised these prompts in a way that we believe will help students see expanded opportunities for expressing themselves. Those revisions appear in italics. You will also notice two new prompts. The first asks students to share examples of their intellectual curiosity. The second is a return to inviting students to submit an essay on a topic of their choice, reframed to help students understand that they are welcome to draw inspiration from multiple sources, not just their own creativity.
The word limit on the essay will remain at 650.
The goal of these revisions is to help all applicants, regardless of background or access to counseling, see themselves and their stories within the prompts. They are designed to invite unencumbered discussions of character and community, identity, and aspiration. To this end, we will be creating new educational resources to help students both understand and approach the opportunities the essay presents for them.
2017-2018 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. [No change]
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? [Revised]
3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? [Revised]
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. [No change]
5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. [Revised]
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? [New]
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. [New]
The people behind The Common Application have just released the new essay prompts (PDF link) for college applicants who apply in the 2013-2014 admissions season. As noted in The Common Application Board of Directors’ announcement, these new prompts are the result of two years of discussion about where essays fit in the overall college admissions process. This is the first big change to the essays in years (including to the word counts!), and it’s clear that the Common Application Board didn’t take the task of reworking these essays lightly.
Without further ado, here are the all-new Common Application essay prompts:
Common Application Essay Questions for 2013-2014
- Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their
application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons
did you learn?
- Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you
make the same decision again?
- Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience
there, and why is it meaningful to you?
- Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from
childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
Which Essay Prompt Should You Choose?
To paraphrase the advice given in the announcement, you should choose the essay prompt that best allows you to tell the application readers something about you that they won’t get from your high transcripts and test scores. Note that these are all “touchy-feely” topics, not questions about your SAT scores or where you placed in the Math Olympics.
This type of reflection is often hard for young people to do well (the hardest topic to write about is usually you!), but just know that college admissions officers aren’t perfect, they know you’re not perfect, and you’re frankly more interesting when you show something other than how perfect you are. It’s okay to reveal a weakness or a fear, or to share something that seems silly, as long as it helps admissions officers feel like they got to know you better and it makes it easier for them to imagine you walking around their campus a year or two from now. Being real is better than simply being impressive.
Common Application Word Limits
You must submit only one essay, and it must be no more than 650 words. This is big news in its own right: The word limit was just 500 words last year! Trust us: Those extra 150 words can make all the difference in the world when you’re trying to whittle down your story. You don’t need to use all 650 words… As The Common Application folks say, “650 words is your limit, not your goal.” If you can tell your story in an impactful way in just 400 words, then great. Some of our all-time favorite admissions essays are also some of the shortest we have seen.
Note that there is actually also a minimum word limit: 250 words. The system won’t accept anything shorter than that, although we doubt many college applicants will end up with first drafts shorter than 250 words.
Update: Check out our most recent article including three tips you should follow to write a standout Common Application essay!
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By Scott Shrum