Which Common App Prompt Should You Choose?

Which Common App Prompt Should You Choose?

The Common Application essay is a place to show off your writing skills and illustrate to colleges who you are as a person. With seven Common App essay prompts, it can be overwhelming to try to fit your life story into just one. Is there one prompt that colleges prefer over others? Is there a topic that admissions officers don't care to read about?

In reality, the best strategy for the common app essay is to develop your own personal story, and subsequently connect it with whichever prompt fits best. The truth is, admissions officers don't care what you write about, as long as it's unique, well written, and helps them learn more about you. ESAI’s College Admissions Tool can help you to develop your personal essay topic, using guided prompts to help you every step of the way. After you write your essay, match it to which ever prompt it aligns with best. 

But if you are struggling with ideas, it can be helpful to brainstorm according to each prompt too. Here are some methods of how to approach each individual 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.

This broad prompt is asking you to discuss some distinctive, noteworthy part of your personality. Whether you are a piano prodigy, or like to play at your church on Sundays, the key to this prompt is showing how that aspect of your identity has shaped you as a person. For example-

  • Playing and performing piano taught you the discipline and patience it takes to succeed academically.
  • Playing and performing piano inspired you to volunteer as a music teacher for underprivileged children.
  • Playing and performing piano for your family taught you the importance of shared traditions.

Prompt 2: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

With this prompt, it's easy to land on a story that's been told one too many times. The common mistake many students make with this essay is dwelling on the negative, and rather than focusing on what you learned. Don’t minimize the struggle you went through, but make sure to put a positive spin on it by the end. Some examples-

  • Moving across the country showed you that baking is the best way to make new friends.
  • Constantly fighting with your younger siblings taught you the importance of empathy and maturity — a skill you use whenever you face difficult characters in life.
  • You didn’t make the basketball team, but you found your best friends running on the track team instead.

Prompt 3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

When working with this prompt, it is most important to focus on the outcome, and link it back to what made you question that belief in the first place. One common misconception is that the outcome always has to be positive. It doesn’t. Maybe you found a negative outcome, and were able to learn and grow from it. And the belief that you challenged doesn’t have to be your own — it could be your friend’s, relatives, or an authority figure. Some examples-

  • You started a petition to change your school's outdated and sexist dress code. Whether or not you succeeded, you learned that there is power in numbers.
  • You challenged your own misconception that you are inherently bad at math, by getting a tutor and doing extra studying.
  • After deleting your social media, you realized that real life interactions are so much more fulfilling.

Prompt 4: Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

This prompt is asking you to show your humility and gratitude, and the ways in which you are inspired by those around you. The subject of this essay doesn’t have to be someone you are close to — in fact, it could be a total stranger! However, the act of kindness or good dead must be significant to have an impact on your life. Remember, the key to this prompt is by focusing on the surprising ways people have influenced you, so be sure that your topic is original and noteworthy. For  example- 

  • Your friends often take spontaneous candid photos of you, providing memories for the future, and reminding you to live in the moment.
  • Your parents talked you into going to therapy when you didn’t think you wanted it.
  • You were forced to go to Sunday school/religious services as a child. You are now thankful you get to be a part of a tight-knit, caring community.

Prompt 5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

This prompt is a great opportunity to showcase your self-growth and self-motivation. Like every other topic, the event you choose doesn’t have to be monumental. In fact, selecting a smaller, yet more personal realization or event will help you stand out even more. For example,

  • A relative told you about your parent’s past, allowing you to better understand their behaviors.
  • Becoming the captain of your sports team showed you that leadership is more about understanding and empathy, rather than rules and decisions.
  • Packing your own lunches was harder than you expected, but taught it you to prioritize your health and self-care.

Prompt 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?

This essay topic is perfect if you have dedicated time to an overarching passion or interest. Consider starting this essay with a description of this idea or passion, or perhaps how you discovered it for the first time. This is a great way to captivate your reader, and showcase your writing skills. Remember to talk about every aspect of your journey with this passion — how you discovered it, how you learned about it, and the impact it had on your life. For example-

  • Your love of astronomy has taken you through countless books and museums, and has spurred your dream of becoming an astronaut.
  • After getting a new puppy, you have decided to master the art of dog training. This pursuit has led you to become passionate about ethical animal training.
  • Your love of anime has given you an interest in Japanese art, culture, and practices.

Prompt 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.

As mentioned, any essay topic can be a college app topic, and this final prompt proves as much. Ultimately, there are no right or wrong Common App prompts. Many students fear that if they don’t answer the prompt exactly, colleges will hold it against them. In reality, as long as your story is compelling, well written, and shows your personality and desirable qualities, it doesn't matter what you write about! In fact, the best and most memorable essays are the most unexpected. 

Finding a topic that is unique and original, however, can be easier said than done. ESAI’s College Admissions Tool can help you to brainstorm unexpected connections within your own life, helping you tell your story more effectively.

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