college essay writing

Spokespeople for the Common Application recently announced that the 2013 – 2014 version of the application would include five brand new essay prompts, which are:

  • Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

In addition to these new prompts, changes include the elimination of the ever-popular ‘topic of your choice’ option. A favorite amongst applicants, the elimination of this prompt, coupled with the overall changes got us thinking about the impact on students writing essays this year. We asked a few expert college admission consultants at College Coach offer their perspective:

 New Common Application Prompts Help Students Focus on Personal Growth

Marj Southworth:  My first impression of the new Common Application essay prompts was a positive one.  Sometimes students can get a little misdirected in their writing, focusing their personal essay on someone or something external to themselves.  These topics encourage self-reflection and I think anything that helps an admission office learn more about the applicant will advantage that student in the process.

Becky Leichtling:  With the old prompts, I read a lot of essays about growing-up moments— a service trip abroad, a life lesson from a grandparent—where the student focused solely on describing the experience she had, instead of how she grew from the experience and carried it forward into her life.  These were missed opportunities.  I think the wording of these prompts reminds the author to focus back on her personal growth and her reaction to the experience she describes.  I believe this will allow her to share more about herself instead of just her subject.

 Students Benefit from More Direction in Essay Prompts

Elyse Krantz:  Two prompts, in particular, stand out for me – but I think my favorite is as follows: “Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?” On their supplement to the Common Application, Connecticut College asked their applicants a similar question this year, and the majority of the responses I’ve read have been wonderful.  When students write about a happy or favorite place, they tend to show a uniquely personal side of themselves that isn’t always apparent in the rest of their application. It’s common for students to try and write about (what they consider to be) weighty and significant moments in their lives, but those essays can unintentionally be devoid of personality. This new essay prompt gives students the opportunity to share an interesting and distinctive story – one of the first steps to creating a standout admissions essay!

Karen Spencer:  I think the word limit is a good thing. I find that students like parameters. They often don’t like those open-ended questions like, “Tell us about yourself.” Too much latitude can make the writing process more difficult than it needs to be.  Receiving more specific directives resembles what students are used to seeing in their schools. A word limit will help give those students some sense for their boundaries and also remind them not to use 10 words when five will do.

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Written by College Coach
College Coach® is the nation’s leading provider of educational advising, offering expert guidance from the best college admissions consultants on the college admissions and finance process. Our goal is to help each student maximize his or her chances of success through services focused on their personal desires, goals, individual strengths, and accomplishments.