Consider the Prompts Less Traveled?

The Common Application recently announced that there will be no changes to the essay prompts for the 2016-2017 college-application cycle. They also provided information about which prompts have been the most and the least popular among the more than 800,000 applicants who have written Common App essays in the past year. 

Naturally, each student should select the prompt to which he or she can respond most compellingly and authentically, but the popularity of prompts is worth keeping in mind. Here's the reported breakdown: 

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.

Nearly half of all application-essay writers selected this prompt for response, which is not surprising given how widely applicable the wording is ("background, identity, interest, or talent").  

Prompt #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?

Seventeen percent of applicants wrote about a failure. 

Prompt #3: Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

Only 4 percent responded to this prompt. (One admissions officer has reportedly remarked: "When I see that a student has responded to the prompt about challenging a belief or idea, I get excited. Those are consistently the most interesting essays.")

Prompt #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.

This prompt was new last year, replacing one that, in the view of most Common App members, did not inspire compellingly reflective essays ("Describe a place of environment where you feel perfectly content...."). Only ten percent of applicants in the past year decided to write about a problem. 

Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition
from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

One of every five applicants addressed this prompt. 

The 2015-16 Common App Essay Prompts

The Common Application prompts for the 2015-16 college-application season have been released (but remember what the main question is):

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.

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?

3.  Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

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.

5.  Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

 

Don't Worry. There Will Be an Essay Prompt for You ...

This just in from the Common Application

While we are not ready to release the final prompts just yet, we can say this: the essay instructions will not be changing. And within those instructions is this question and advice for students: "What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response."

Regardless of the final prompts, that leading question should be at the heart of any essay a student writes. To those of you eager to begin, we invite you to spend some time considering what you want to tell colleges about yourself — which is quite different than predicting what colleges want to hear. Whatever you decide, there will be an essay prompt to guide and support your story.

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