The Common App Essay Prompts for The 2021-2022 Application Cycle

What are the common app essay prompts, and how do you go about choosing one?

There are 7 different common app essay prompts to choose from, and each one poses unique benefits and drawbacks. Below are the prompts you can choose from, as well as some questions and ideas to consider in order to pick the one that best fits your needs. There is no particular prompt that colleges prefer more. Rather, you should choose the prompt that you believe allows you to tell the best story to admissions committees and gives them an inside look into who you are as an applicant.

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.

  • Are you from an immigrant household that has shaped you in a particular way, and what specific obstacles have you overcome that make you an asset to programs that you plan to attend in the future?
  • Has a component of your personal identity presented unique challenges throughout your life, and how has this shaped you?
  • Have music, art, or the performing arts been an integral part of your life to the degree that any essay about yourself would be incomplete without this passion?
  • Has there been a unique talent or competition you have been a part of that has allowed you to travel, meet people from different backgrounds, or shaped you significantly in some way?

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?

  • Was there an athletic goal that you dedicated a lot of blood, sweat and tears toward that did not go the way you wanted? How did you respond going forward?
  • Was there a project or event you organized that didn’t go according to plan, and what did you learn from it?
  • Was there a job you have had in which you faced significant challenges that needed to be overcome?
  • Has there been a personal experience or setback with you or your family that has affected you deeply, and how has that made you a more resilient and understanding person as a result?

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

  • Has there been a scientific experiment you have conducted that challenged conventional thinking in some way?
  • Have you written a report or an article that challenged the status quo about an issue?
  • Was there a teaching in school or by a particular organization that you were a part of at some point that you challenged, and did this lead to change or productive discussion of some sort?

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?

  • Has someone saved you from a particular fate or negative experience?
  • Has someone taken their time to help solve an enormous problem you were facing?
  • Is there a moment that sticks out to you where someone has gone above and beyond in your life, and has made you reflect on the importance or relationships?
  • What is it about that action, person, or relationship that has been so impactful to you?
  • Did the action change the way you viewed your relationship, the way you relate to others, or your perspective on friendships/family?
  • Have you taken actions since that time that have been sparked by that initial encounter?

5. 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?

  • Have you created something such as a website, tool, or business in the entrepreneur space that made you feel excited and alive?
  • Have you started or been involved with an interest group or leadership organization regarding a particular passion of yours?
  • Are there environmental projects, social initiatives, or other causes that you have devoted time and effort to that you are passionate about?

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

  • Is there are volunteer experience that has been extremely impactful for you that has changed your perspective?
  • Is there an athletic accomplishment that required you to overcome many roadblocks to accomplish?
  • Is there a musical performance and preparation leading up to this that made you grow in some way or impact you moving forward?
  • Was there a family or personal event that you have had to overcome that has led to resilience, growth, or maturation of some sort?

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.

  • If none of the prior prompts spark a particular idea or passion, this choice allows you start from scratch and discuss your topic of choosing with the admissions committee.
  • This is particularly well suited for applicants that had a creative idea for an essay already formed that does not fit into any of the above categories.

Frequently asked questions

Since universities can receive thousands of applications, and many of these applicants all have average or above average GPA and standardized test scores, the personal statement is an important differentiator that lets the admissions committee know who you are as a person and what you can uniquely contribute to their institution.

Many admissions experts agree that the secondary essays for specific colleges are even more important than the personal essay in the common application. The reason for this is that the college in question has specifically posed these essay questions because they believe that they reveal a more telling story regarding their applicants. Since this determines who they will then want to accept at their institution, it is important not to rush through the secondary essays and make the best effort possible in standing out in your essay.

Absolutely. You should have multiple people review your essays for grammar and spelling errors, transition quality, and overall message. The most polished essays that are application-ready have usually been through at least 2 or 3 revisions prior to submission.

The most common format for college interviews is one-on-one or panel interviews (two or more interviewers with one applicant). It is important to prepare and practice answers to the most common college interview questions.

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