With feedback provided by 108 member colleges and more than 5,000 other “constituents,” the Common Application has announced essay prompts for 2017-2018. And the big news is that the Common App brought back ‘topic of your choice’ from a three-year hiatus during which both the Universal College Application and the new Coalition application allowed students the flexibility to write on topics of their own choosing.
This is no small concession, as the Common App invested significant energy defending their decision to do away with the ‘topic of your choice.’ According to the blog post announcing the new prompts, the Common App was “gratified to learn that 91% of members and 90% of constituents agree or strongly agree that the current prompts are effective.” And five of the seven prompts are either unchanged or edited versions of the 2016-17 questions.
Of the two new prompts, one asks students to “share examples of their intellectual curiosity.” The other allows students to be more creative by using an essay they’ve already written or one that responds to a different prompt or one that they design—in other words, for this prompt you may write what you want but keep it to within 650 words.
Beginning with the 2016-17 application cycle, Common App members had the choice of whether or not to require a personal statement as part of the application for admission. And out of nearly 700 members, 195, or about a third, elected to drop the standardized writing requirement as not particularly useful in the college admissions process. Others secretly confess that they either scan or totally skip the personal statement in their evaluations.
But still, the cottage industry that has sprung up around these essays continues to grow and flourish.
All that aside, here are the seven questions from which applicants using the Common App will be asked to choose to form the basis of a personal statement (new language appears in italics):
- 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.
- 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?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- 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.
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- 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?
- 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.
The announcement of essay prompts inevitably signals the start of a new year. College-bound juniors along with those who advise them can look forward to the challenge of coming up with personal statements that add dimension to other information provided in the body of the application.
And they have months to think it over before the Common App comes on line.
Note that the Coalition application announced 2017-18 prompts a couple of weeks ago.