The essay that is an integral part of the Common Application plays a key role in the holistic review of each college applicant. The essay provides the applicant an opportunity to show their creativity, their unique voice, and a chance to present information that is not in the application. It also demonstrates the student’s ability to write concisely and organize their thoughts.
The word limit will be raised to 650 words, whereas previously it was 500 words. Applicants may write fewer than 650 words, but the web-only Common Application will not accept less than 250 words. The Common Application will now have a choice of 5 essay prompts, but there will no longer be an option for the popular “topic of your choice.” Students will have to write their essays into a text window and the word limit will be strictly enforced. It is likely that italics, underlining, and other text formats will not be available.
The new essay prompts are:
- 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.
Even without a “topic of your choice”, I believe that most students will find something in their life that matches one of these prompts. The first prompt provides a chance to talk about a student’s academic interest or major of choice. The second prompt presents an opportunity to demonstrate a student’s ability to overcome obstacles. I also particularly like the last essay prompt if a student has a unique background or family history that they want to share with the reader.
Another change in the Common Application is the elimination of the ability to upload a resume unless requested by the individual college or university. There will also be no short answer (discuss an activity question) on the 2013-2014 Common Application, unless an individual college supplement requires it. This question, or a version of it, would then be in the writing supplement. The Common Application reviews the essay prompts each year and may institute changes from year to year. If you have specific questions regarding the essay or need guidance, please feel free to contact me for support.