Calling all juniors, high school class of 2018 members and future college graduates of 2022: The college admissions process has begun. The Common Application, accepted by nearly 700 colleges across the country, has released its 2017-2018 essay prompts.
What are the changes? Two new essay prompts have been added, and there has been some minor tweaking of the old prompts. Juniors will need to pick one of the following prompts to write about for next year’s applications. Some have been revised; some remain unchanged.
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)
The best news for students is that there are two additional prompts, and No. 7 is topic of choice, which means that students can submit an existing essay or an essay that they are using for another college that does not accept the Common Application. The recommended essay length remains at 500 words, but all essays from 250 to 650 words will be accepted. Most students find that they are able to tell a substantive story about themselves within the 650-word limit.
Tips for juniors
Get comfortable with the prompts. Think about what you want admissions officers to know about you. Analyze each of the prompts to determine which one(s) allow you to strut your stuff and share your most insightful thoughts about you and your personal experiences.
Why the changes?
Common Application surveyed more than 5,000 individuals, including admissions officers at colleges, students, teachers, parents and high school guidance counselors, for feedback on last year’s essay prompts.
The changes on Prompt No. 2 — what used to be referred to as the “failure prompt” — are interesting. Many students I’ve worked with have been uncomfortable with sharing a failure. Their thinking, after all, is that they are trying to impress an admissions office, so “why would I want to talk about when I failed?” The old prompt was as follows:
“The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”
Common App retooled the language, and the new prompt No. 2 is a little gentler.
Best tip for handling any prompt: Start thinking before you start writing.
Lee Shulman Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website College Admissions Strategies.