Getting In with the Common App

06/01/15

What Is the Common App Essay?

The Common App is a standardized college application. It is an important part of your college admissions process. The Common App essay is one of the largest and most important components of it. It is a key part of many college admissions in the U.S. Not all schools use it. However, many do because it is an easy way to gather key information from students. The Common App allows students to apply to colleges quickly.

As of September 2020, over 900 colleges participate in using it across the United States, according to Common App. This Common essay is one component of the application. There are a few things you should know if you are in high school about how to complete this application. Here’s information about the application from Common App, the company behind the application.

In the United States, students typically complete this in their senior year of high school. They may work with their college admissions counselors to complete it, but it is a personal essay you need to write. The Common App essay questions typically change each year.

The goal of this essay is to gauge your writing skills. It is also a way to showcase your thoughts, interests, and critical thinking skills. There are many things that make for a great Common App essay.

What Are the 2020 to 2021 Common App Essay Prompts?

For 2020 to 2021, the Common App essay questions are the same as they were for the previous year, according to Common App. You can find them listed at CommonApp.org. Because details matter, here are the exact prompts you may complete for this year.

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story.

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?

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

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 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.

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

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging 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?

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.

When Should You Use the Common App?

Before providing info about the Common App essay, consider the importance of this application itself. Many schools have required students to write an essay as a part of the admissions process. Some schools still do this. Students in these cases have to find out what the school requires. Then, they have to write a unique essay to each school on that prompt.

With the Common App, you may just need to write one essay. You also fill out the details of the app one time. This includes your name and notable info. That means you may be able to streamline the process and submit your application quickly to a variety of schools.

The Common App also aims to makes it easy for you to submit these applications to the schools. There is no mailing of the downloaded form to the college. It is all done online. The requirements are all clearly outlined, too.

The key here, though, is that you need to make sure you follow all directions related to the application process. The Common App is designed to make it easier to do this. Still, you need to check with the college you are applying to and make sure they have all of the info they need.

You should apply to each of the colleges you hope to get into no matter if they offer the Common App or not. If they do offer it, they may prefer that you use this method. Some people may prefer to use the essay provided by the school. If this is an option, it is up to you to decide which is best for you.

What Is Included in the Common App?

As noted, the Common Application essay is one part of this tool. There are other components as well. For example, as noted by Common App, the company behind the tool, it submits your test scores to the colleges. This includes your SAT and ACT. It may also require you to complete a personal statement. This part is important. It allows you to tell the schools what you are hoping to study. It could be a good way for you to communicate your academic and career goals.

The Common App does not replace a transcript. Often, it does not tell your colleges what your grades are for English, Math, or other courses. It does provide a lot of information about your educational path.

It allows space for extracurricular activities. That is also important. It may help you stand out from the other students applying for the same opening at various colleges. You may want to showcase all of your hard work here. Let them know what you have done over the last few years. Include sports, academics, and any other organizations available to you.

Keep in mind that college admissions officers may use this information for many decisions. For example, college application essays may be used for admissions into the school. They may also help you qualify for various scholarships and grants. That means if you completed a mission trip or spent a summer studying at a performing arts center in New York, you should include this in your app.

Students should include all information from your college years. This also includes from your freshman year and onward. However, if you did something at a young age that may help you, include that, too.

How Do You Write a Common App Essay?

Now that you know what is on the Common App, the next step is to prepare and write your Common App essays. Don’t make a decision about which essay topic to right too quickly.

Ask yourself what you could discuss that may impress the admissions committee, but also gives you the best ability to communicate what is important to you. Skip the clichés. Focus on these tips to help you to create a good essay that gets the right type of attention.

First, know the rules. There is a word limit on the Common App essay. It is between 250 and 650 words. You need to stay in this length. The App is designed to ensure you submit the right amount in most cases. Aim to be at the top end of this limit. Aim for around 500 to 650 words. This gives you lots of space to have ample room to write.

Essay Prompt #1:

Read this prompt out loud to yourself. Then, jot down the things that come to mind. Brainstorm on a piece of paper to really organize your thoughts.

  • Do you have a talent that others do not have?
  • What makes you unique?
  • What is most meaningful to you in your life right now?

Essay Prompt #2:

Think about your past. Consider both the good and the bad from your past. Your goal here is to think about problems, but also things that challenged you. You may have been excited about the experience. You may have failed badly.

  • Write out the challenge you faced.
  • Brainstorm about it. What was the worst part of it?
  • Did you learn from this challenge?
  • What good came from this experience?
  • How did this change your path?

Essay Prompt #3

Think about something that really made you think or challenged something that really impacted you. Though politics is so common, look outside of this. Is there something about culture, religion, identity, or just everyday life that really strikes you?

  • Describe what this was in detail. List out the facts.
  • Consider what makes you think about this as a shocking revelation.
  • Why did you question it?
  • What beliefs do you have that make this strange or challenging?

Essay Prompt #4

Dive deep here. Surface problems are not enough. Aim to choose a problem that you may be able to develop a real solution to, but be realistic. Some of this topic may focus on personal things of importance, but it is also important to make sure the reader is able to understand the problem and your solution.

  • What is a problem you want to change?
  • How are you able to you change it?
  • What would it take to change it?
  • Why is your solution better?
  • What makes this opportunity so important to you?

Essay Prompt #5

Again, dive deep here when possible. The goal is to really showcase something of meaning. You’ll want to think about something that helped you grow. That may not be just getting good grades. It may be something that really changed your outlook.

  • What did you accomplish?
  • What about this accomplishment or realization really makes it stand out in your past? Think about what it really meant to you.
  • Focus on your personal growth here. How did you change your path?
  • What did you learn from this?

Essay Prompt #6

When choosing this prompt, be honest and open. What is something that you like to talk endlessly about to other people? It is important to be able to describe this to someone. For that reason, choose something that interests you the most. Don’t worry about what people may think about the topic.

  • Talk about what the topic or concept is. Make sure your passion shines through here.
  • What makes you so captivated about this?
  • List things you do to keep learning and growing in this area.
  • Take the time to outline what else you would like to learn about it.
  • Why do you want other people to also be interested in this?

Essay Prompt #7

This one allows you to write about anything you want and think is important. What you want to do here is to really find something that is interesting to you. Be sure you are able to provide enough details about the topic. You also want to ensure you are choosing a topic that is important to you.

  • Brainstorm topic ideas for a while.
  • Turn to other college essays to get some inspiration.
  • Consider using one of the provided prompts and changing it up a bit to better fit your needs.

How Do You Write a Successful College Essay?

No matter which Common App essay prompt you complete, there are a few things that may make it a true winner.

  • Make sure you take your time. Don’t rush this. You may want to rewrite it more than once to get it just right.
  • Get right to the point. Don’t repeat yourself in the essay.
  • This is not the place for you to list all the things you’ve accomplished. Talk about a topic that is not otherwise represented heavily on the Common App.

Remember to allow your personality to come through. The Common App essay is all about expressing yourself.

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