Hopefully by now you have taken (or at least registered to take) the SAT and you've got your eye on a few universities to apply to in the United States. We've said it time and time again, the easiest way to apply to a lot of universities at the same time is to use the Common Application. You can apply to more than 500 universities using one application (they even added 60 new universities this year!).
Although some universities have supplements that require you to write more essays, there are many good universities that don't require extra work, which means you can do the application once and then keep applying.
You're only required to complete ONE of the following essays. The maximum word count for these essays is 650 words each (you can be a little under but get as close as you can to 650 without going over). The prompts look very similar to last year's but there are new phrases added that completely reframe the question, so pay close attention to the prompts. Don't forget to edit and re-edit your essay because all of your universities will read it.
Essay 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.
Our Comments: Only choose this question if there is something really unusual about you that has changed or made your life what it is. Examples of unusual things would include:
It's not enough to be different, though. You need to have a compelling story to go with your differentness. You must be able to tell a clear, moving story that has a beginning, middle, and end. You should discuss why this background, identity, etc. is so important that it needed to be mentioned in your application and hint at how it will allow you to contribute to your accepted university. At the end of the essay, you should directly connect this quality about yourself to your academic goals and what you can offer.
Essay 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?
Our Comments: You read this question and your first response was to think of a tiny failure that suggests you are so perfect that you rarely fail, right? Wrong. This type of response is classic and everyone knows what you're doing. A great answer to this question shows real vulnerability.
When we sit down with students to outline an answer to this question, we ask about an EPIC FAIL and afterwards when their parents, siblings, friends, or teachers ripped them a new butt hole. We want THAT experience. What happened? What specifically did you do that caused you to fail (you've got to own it and take responsibility for your actions)? What was your response? What did you think about? What did you learn? Were you able to apologize, fix the failure, or was the moment gone?
Now matter how epic the fail, be sure to end on a happy, positive note (not something like going to university will redeem me). The best essays will reference the first part of the question and demonstrate (not just discuss) how the lessons from that failure made you successful later. A common example (so don't use this one) would be that you didn't study at all for a class, then failed it, and didn't pass the 10th grade. That experience was a wake up call that led you to start studying hard and reaching your academic potential. Eventually, you graduated in the top 5% of your high school class.
Essay 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?
Our Comments: This essay has the potential to be a great one if you have a strong idea that you were taught by your parents, adults that were in a position of trust (pastor, youth group leader, teacher, etc.), or friends that turned out to be wrong.
If you choose a story in which you questioned your friends or went against peer pressure, the belief or idea (basically the situation) needs to be bigger than a petty disagreement. A good story would be something like you spent a year bullying a kid with your friends and then you realized it was wrong and then protected him. A great story ends with you losing all your friends instead of the kid you bullied. I'd watch that movie...wouldn't you?
Don't forget this essay needs to be 650 words, so don't just write the facts. Set the scene! Tell a great story and explain your thought process keeping in mind that you should reveal what prompted you to act and the new beliefs or ideas that were formed because you challenged the original idea. A strong conclusion will answer whether you would make the same decision again and why.
Essay 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.
Our Comments: There are two options for this question: one problem that you have solved or one that you would like to solve. Since you're applying to university and, hopefully, are already intellectually curious, we suggest you choose this essay if you can readily identify an intellectual challenge or research query related to your CHOSEN major that you would like to solve. (Don't pick the other option...it's way too complicated!)
For example, if you want to major in math, choose a theorem or real world application of a mathematical concept that you want to solve (or at least know more about). Be sure to give all the "juicy" details of who created this theorem, how it works, and the shortcomings. You should also explain why this theorem interests you and how you would go about exploring it or finding a solution.
If you're an IB student that had to do an investigation for SL/HL Math, you've got the perfect beginnings of your Common App essay!
Essay Prompt 5: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
Our Comments: Boy does the Common App love storytelling! This essay is another one begging you for a great, reflective story. If you choose this essay, you should think about a FIRST in your life. Was there a moment that was a classic coming-of-age or right of passage? Examples include:
No matter what you write about, tell a great story and, as always, explain why this was importance.
Now that you know about the Common App essays, go write an awesome one!