2014 2015 Common App Essay Prompts

In the 2014-15 Common App, Member colleges and universities can ask for writing samples on either the Member Questions page or the Writing Supplement. This is a change from last year’s Common App. Some applicants and counselors are finding it tricky to identify all of the writing samples that a college might require, especially those that are triggered based on responses to other questions. The First-Year Writing Requirements Overview posted within the Applicant Help Center will help you identify whether a college requires writing of any kind. It lists all of the colleges and universities that have short answer and/ or essay questions as part of their First-Year application and where those questions appear.

In general, there are three kinds of questions that you may encounter, required, conditional, and optional.

Required questions are ….well…required.  This means that you must provide a response to the question prior to the submission of the application.

Conditional questions are those that are triggered by the responses to other questions. Some people refer to these ‘stealth’ or ‘hidden’ questions. Colleges are really not trying to hide them from you – they are just conditional based on previous responses. So for example if you indicate that you are applying to a particular college within the university, or to specific major or program, the college may require a short answer or essay about your interest in that program.  If you are not applying to that program, it is not necessary for you to see or respond to that question.

Optional questions are not required. You may decide whether or not you want to provide a response to the question.

In addition to having the questions within the Common App, many colleges post their essay questions (required, conditional, and optional) on their websites so don’t forget to check that out as well to make sure you have everything.

One final suggestion – the college application process can be overwhelming. Take your time with your application and make sure you give yourself enough time to write thoughtful and well-planned essays regardless of the required length.  This is your chance to speak to the admissions committees – take advantage of that opportunity.

We are pleased to share the 2017-2018 Common Application essay prompts with you. The changes you see below reflect the feedback of 108 Common App member colleges and more than 5,000 other Common App constituents, as well as consultation with our advisory committees and Board of Directors. Students represented the single largest share of constituent survey respondents (59%), followed by school counselors (23%), and teachers (11%).

Read: You Have a Story to Tell. Colleges Want to Read It.and The Common App Essay Prompts Are Changing.

We were gratified to learn that 91% of members and 90% of constituents agree or strongly agree that the current prompts are effective. In addition, the narrative comments we received helped us see areas for improvement in three of the prompts. Working in close consultation with the counselors and admission officers on our advisory committees, we revised these prompts in a way that we believe will help students see expanded opportunities for expressing themselves. Those revisions appear in italics. You will also notice two new prompts. The first asks students to share examples of their intellectual curiosity. The second is a return to inviting students to submit an essay on a topic of their choice, reframed to help students understand that they are welcome to draw inspiration from multiple sources, not just their own creativity.

The word limit on the essay will remain at 650.

The goal of these revisions is to help all applicants, regardless of background or access to counseling, see themselves and their stories within the prompts. They are designed to invite unencumbered discussions of character and community, identity, and aspiration. To this end, we will be creating new educational resources to help students both understand and approach the opportunities the essay presents for them.

2017-2018 Common Application Essay Prompts

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. [No change]

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? [Revised]

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

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. [No change]

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

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? [New]

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. [New]

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