Expert Advice on Your Common App Essay Prompts

Common App Essay

Are you going to enter college in the near future? If so, you have probably faced some problems while choosing the most appropriate topic among the college essay prompts and writing an effective essay to make your college realize that you will become one of their most successful students. A Common App personal statement allows you to introduce yourself to admissions committees and encourage them to accept your application.

I’ve been working in the essay writing industry for five years, and I’ve noticed that the key pain of all students is selecting a topic and writing the Common App essay because they need to demonstrate their values, interests, and strengths in a short writing piece. However, a college entrance essay is an excellent opportunity to persuade the admissions officers that you are the most suitable candidate to study in a specific educational institution. Let’s focus on Common App essays and their requirements to help you write the best essay and enter the college of your dreams. 

What Is Common App?

The Common App is a popular college application portal accepted by numerous schools that allows students to apply to various colleges simultaneously. Most educational institutions require their potential students to provide the same information, and the Common App simplifies this process; the users just have to fill out some details such as their name, address, etc., one time. Therefore, prospective students face fewer challenges while applying to colleges, since the Common App makes this process easier and more comfortable.

The portal also provides the Common App prompts and requires future students to write personal essays that enable colleges to assess the individuals’ skills, experience, and worldviews. This information helps educational institutions to evaluate your value as a student and determine whether they should accept your application. The Common App essay prompts allow applicants to choose the most appropriate topic that enables them to express their opinions and ideas effectively. Admissions officers will focus on your ability to organize your thoughts and discuss a specific issue creatively and explicitly.

The Common App is a popular college application portal that allows students to apply to various colleges simultaneously.

Although particular schools require applicants to provide additional information or write another essay, most colleges focus on the Common App prompt. Their choice depends on the quality of the essay you submit when applying through the portal. That’s why it’s essential to follow a college application essay format and write an essay about a topic that is critical to you. Following the Common App essay requirements increases your chances of impressing admissions officers and entering college. Let’s focus on the basic standards:

  • The required word count for Common App essay is 250-650 words. I’d recommend you write around 500 words, since this number of words is enough to express your ideas and discuss the critical aspects of your topic.
  • The Common App essay format includes an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. This structure makes your admissions essay organized and well-written and allows you to divide your essay into logical sections.
  • Avoid using emojis and hashtags. Likewise, caps, italics, and bold can negatively affect the overall impression made by your Common App essay on the readers. Although you’re writing about your thoughts and experiences, your essay should remain professional rather than informal.
  • Since the platform doesn’t give the option to indent your paragraphs, it’s better to add an empty line between the paragraphs to show the end of the previous section and the beginning of the new part.

Undoubtedly, colleges’ primary focus will be on your story rather than the format. Nevertheless, if you consider writing rules, follow a specific format and word count, and write a grammatically correct essay, you’ll sound more professional and mature and submit the best Common App essay possible.

Write Common App essay in approximately 500 words, with no informal inserts, like caps, italics, bold formatting, or emojis. Instead, make sure to establish clear introduction, body, and conclusion. 

What Are Common App Prompts?

The Common App prompts include seven different topics that enable you to discuss the issue that is the most relevant for you. The Common App essay prompt encourages prospective students to use critical thinking and express their ideas in a short essay to allow admissions officers to understand their points of view correctly. As a rule, the Common App essay topics stay the same from year to year. However, the portal may periodically provide one or two new options. 

The Common App questions require prospective students to reflect on their experiences, changes in their worldviews and beliefs, personal transformations, the people that have played a crucial role in their lives, multiple events, etc. The applicants only have one chance to persuade the admissions officers that studying in college will significantly influence their lives, so writing the Common App essay is a complex and challenging process that should be completed responsibly. 

Seven essential topics for the Common App essay are background, interests, talents, beliefs, gratitude towards something, inspirations, and hobbies.

The standard Common App topics focus on your background, interests, talents, ability to deal with various difficulties, challenging of a belief or idea, or gratitude towards a specific person, as well as on events or achievements that have caused your transformation, an inspiring activity or hobby you enjoy, and a free topic. This list proves that the Common Application essay can be written on various issues, while your task is to choose the prompt that will give you an opportunity to demonstrate your uniqueness and personality. Let’s check how you can select the most relevant and appropriate topic for your Common App personal essay.

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How to Choose the Right Common App Prompt?

Your choice of the Common Application essay prompts determines your writing’s success and the admissions officers’ overall impression and final decision. Importantly, you need to choose a topic connected with your personal story. Some students believe that if they select a widespread and popular prompt, their application will not be accepted by colleges. However, the best Common App essays are not necessarily the ones that have been written on less popular topics; even overused college essay topics can help you persuade admissions committees to accept your application if you write a unique and honest story that will show your talent, experience, and views.

My most important tip is to choose a topic connected with your personal story.

Although choosing topics for college essays seems to be a confusing process, it’s much easier than you imagine. I hope the following tips for Common App essay prompt choice will help you select the most suitable topic for you personally:

  • Select three college essays topics from among the prompts the Common App provides. These topics should be relevant to your life and experience and allow you to write an interesting and engaging essay that can impress others.
  • Brainstorm ideas appropriate for every prompt separately, which will help you write successful college essays based on these prompts.
  • Choose one of the prompts that can be discussed in the most unique and impressive way.
  • Develop the ideas that you will write about in your Common App college essay. Your writing should be meaningful and thought-provoking, so it’s important to choose the best ideas for the Common App essay from among the ones you have analyzed.
  • You can discuss your choice with your advisor or teacher; they will help you understand whether you have made the correct decision. It’s always a good idea to listen to other opinions and then make your final decision.
  • Good Common App essays result from the correct choice of prompt. You can start writing as soon as you have selected one prompt and are sure it will allow you to submit a high-quality and exciting essay.

Undoubtedly, you can find an appropriate personal story for each prompt. However, it’s better to choose a topic that resonates with you and makes you feel inspired and motivated when writing. If you enjoy the writing process and really want to share a specific story with others, you will write the best application essay you can.

2023-2024 Common App Prompts: Ideas and Analysis

Every prompt provides a wide range of ideas you can discuss when writing the Common App essay. Let’s focus on college essays prompts separately to understand what they require and what aspects should be addressed to meet all the requirements. 

  • Prompt One. Some students have a background, identity, or talent that is so critical that they think their application would be incomplete without it. Please share your story if this statement applies to you.

This prompt gives students a unique opportunity to discuss almost anything they want. You need to focus on your hobby, interest, personality, or experience. Moreover, you can even discuss your cultural background, family, and traditions. Specifically, the best college application essays will explain their writers’ uniqueness and importance through a particular story. 

For example, you can write about your new hobby, such as guitar playing, and the challenges you have faced while developing your skills in this field. Here is a possible beginning for this essay: “I started to dream about getting a guitar three years ago. My parents told me I was too old to learn to play that musical instrument and advised me to focus on other activities. I used my saved money to buy a guitar and started learning by myself, watching various video lessons. Although those in my surroundings did not believe that I could succeed in this sphere, I am a good guitar player today, and my parents are impressed by my skills and perseverance.

  • Prompt Two. The lessons we take from the difficulties we encounter can be critical to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

This prompt encourages you to share your experience of dealing with some difficulties and determine what lesson it provided. You need to specify a period of your life when you faced a challenge and discuss this story in detail to let the admissions officers understand how this situation changed your personality.

For instance, you can write about sports or activities and the struggles you have faced. You can write: “In 2020, I started practicing my rock climbing skills and quickly realized that I was too weak to climb a specific rock. I understood that only hard work and regular training could help me overcome that challenge. I started to work on my physical shape and finally climbed that difficult rock. I understood that the more I practiced, the better an athlete I would become, and that lesson could be applied to all spheres of my life.

  • Prompt Three. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the result?

This topic is one of the most challenging among the prompts for college essays because it’s better to choose an idea that will not be controversial for admissions officers. If you select this prompt, you need to know how to write an essay for college and avoid discussing debatable issues, such as religion, politics, abortion laws, etc.

The Common Application essay examples based on this prompt include discussing the role of perfectionism in various activities (are small improvements enough, or should we continue working until we become perfect at something?), the role of failures in our lives (is failure a learning tool or the worst thing you can face?), etc. These topics will not make the admission committee feel uncomfortable, so you can use them as things to write about for an essay.

  • Prompt Four. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that made you surprisingly happy or thankful. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

This college essay topic allows you to share your experience of feeling gratitude to a stranger or loved one that has inspired you to be kind to others. Focus on the situation and the lesson it taught you. For instance, you could mention a time from your childhood when you were sad for some reason, but a stranger, who noticed you were feeling unhappy, unexpectedly came up to you in the street, gave you a small toy, asked you to share what had happened, and elevated your mood. This experience taught you that people should remain empathetic and motivated to help others if possible.

  • Prompt Five. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that caused a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

This essay prompt for college enables you to discuss a situation when you analyzed a specific issue from a new perspective. You can describe a problem your team faced and how you motivated all the team members to join their efforts to overcome this challenge. This situation made you realize that you have strong leadership skills and encouraged you to develop them, while your personal growth resulted from the constant improvement of your ability to interact with others. Here is a possible thesis for your Common Apps essay: “I had never perceived myself as a strong leader until two members of my team faced a conflict, and I successfully helped those people to find a common language and inspired everyone to join their efforts to achieve the established goals.

  • Prompt Six. Describe a topic or concept you find so interesting 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 about it?

Many students recognize this prompt as one of the best Common App essay topics because it allows them to discuss their passions and interests. For example, are you interested in psychology? If so, it’s an excellent opportunity to write about your passion and explain its role in your life. You can specify that you apply various psychological theories while reading books or watching movies because it helps you understand characters’ decisions and behaviors better. Explain how you improve your knowledge and skills and who helps you to become proficient in this sphere.

  • Prompt Seven. 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 you choose this topic, your Common Apps essay can focus on anything; you can use an essay you have written before or write about an issue that isn’t relevant to any of the prompts mentioned above. Although this prompt seems easy because it doesn’t establish any requirements for the essay, it’s also one of the most difficult. Students often face more challenges when writing an essay without a specific topic than when they have to reply to a prompt. Nevertheless, if you choose this prompt, discuss a significant and inspiring story that can make the admissions officers realize that it has considerably influenced your personality, beliefs, views, and values.

Important Tips for Writing Common App Essay

Whatever the prompt you choose, focus on these Common App essay tips to sound interesting and impress the admission committee with your writing:

  • Follow the Common App word limit, since the admissions officers always consider your ability to concentrate on the established requirements and limitations.
  • Avoid mentioning specific educational institutions because various colleges will read your essay.
  • Create a Common App essay outline before you start writing to organize your thoughts and determine the critical ideas you want to discuss.
  • An introduction is one of the most critical parts of your college entrance essays, so it’s vital to make your readers interested in your writing from the first sentences.
  • Essay writing for college differs from ordinary formal essays. Therefore, there is no need to summarize all the points you have discussed in the conclusion. The last paragraph of your essay is an appropriate place to specify what you have learned and what changed in your life after the events you have discussed.
  • You can ask someone you trust to read your essay because they can shed some light on your writing’s weaknesses and help you improve it.
  • Your college Common App essay should not include controversial ideas or issues to prevent making a negative impression on the admissions officers.
  • You can try to read some Common App essays examples before you start writing your essay just to get inspiration and understand what colleges expect you to submit. However, do not copy others’ ideas. 
  • Be creative! This essay gives you a chance to express your thoughts and show your personality, so use this opportunity to persuade colleges that you will become their best student. 

Common App Essay

Writing a Common App essay seems to be a difficult process. However, you just need to find a story from your life that can be interesting and inspiring for others and discuss it in your writing. I’m sure you’ll enter the college of your dreams and enjoy every moment there. Give it your best shot, and you’ll see that college essay writing is a unique and engaging activity that will provide you with valuable experience!

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Nicolas Evans
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Nicholas works in the ESL Department of He’s much adored by students in a private middle school, where he teaches English literature. Amateur actor and great guitar player, Nicholas knows how to enjoy the arts.