How To Respond To The Common Application Essay Prompts for 2021-22

Colleges and universities will read your college application essay to gain an understanding of who you are as a person. The admissions officer reading your essay should have an idea of how you can contribute to their campus. 

What experiences do you bring to campus? What factors have shaped your views of the world? What values do you hold close to your heart? Answering these questions, getting vulnerable, and delivering writing that is free of errors are great starting points. 

Here is a breakdown of what to avoid, what to include, and how to approach the seven prompts offered by the Common Application: 

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.

To respond to this prompt, you may consider providing a specific anecdote about the background, identity, interest, or talent that is crucial to who you are. Be sure that you avoid writing an essay that looks like a resume. You should be specific and direct in stating the details of your experience. 

A typical mistake students make when writing an essay following this prompt is failing to focus on themselves. Be sure that you dedicate a significant portion of your writing to talking about yourself. 

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?

Discussing a time that you failed or describing an obstacle you overcame is a good way to write an essay that is emotionally impactful and vulnerable. Be sure to highlight how you have grown from your mistakes and the lessons you have learned from the challenges you faced. Be specific and include a discussion of how you can use what you learned to make a difference on campus in the future. 

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

To write an effective essay, it is crucial that you answer every portion of the prompt. Do not just tell a story about a vague disagreement or opposition. 

Consider how you can go into details to answer the questions “What prompted your thinking?” and “What was the outcome?” Avoiding a portion of the prompt may come across as lazy. You do not want the admissions counselor to assume you do not care. Your answer to these details in the prompt may open up a valuable discussion you did not expect. 

4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

This prompt is new to the 2021-2022 Common App. If this essay prompt speaks to you, you can use it as an opportunity to share an experience, revelation, event, or interaction that lifted you up. Be specific, and do not shy away from emotion or passion when writing an essay under this prompt. 

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

When answering this prompt, it is a good idea for you to select a specific story to write about. Writing about something that sparked a period of personal growth should focus on you, and you must include a discussion of how the specific catalyst shaped you. Furthermore, describe how you will bring the specified growth and understanding to campus. 

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or whom do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Again, this is a prompt that asks more than one question. When approaching prompt #6, be sure that you answer every question included in the prompt. The small details about your experience with the fascinating topic, idea, and concept will make your essay relatable and personal. Your reader should understand the things that are important to you, why they are important, and how their importance has changed your life. 

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.

Many students are intimidated by this open-ended prompt, but it offers an opportunity to get creative or show off your writing skills in a less conventional way. If you select this prompt, it is always important to remember the purpose of your essay. Your reader needs to have a strong understanding of who you are. 

Seven Common App Essay Tips from Experts | How To Write An Effective Application Essay

1. Write Multiple Drafts Of Your Essay

The first tip you may consider when writing your Common App essay is writing multiple drafts. If writing is not your strong suit, then this tip may seem daunting to you. You should know that writing more than one draft may result in your essay taking a direction that you did not originally expect. 

Your final draft may look drastically different from your first draft. You may find that the more you write on a specific topic, the more details you remember. You may also find that writing multiple drafts hones your ability to deliver precise writing. 

You can write multiple drafts of multiple prompts too. If you struggle to select one prompt that works for you, write a couple of rough drafts following the prompts that speak to you. You should be able to decipher whether the prompt feels genuine to you once you have put pen to paper. 

Take the time to determine which one of your drafts offers the best emotional impact or an opportunity to stand out in the pile of other admissions essays your reader has already read. 

2. Choose A Prompt That Is Relevant To You 

As you work on your essay, consider whether your task has been complicated by selecting a prompt that is not relevant to your story. Writing about a topic that is not genuinely important to you is destined to result in an underdeveloped paper or vague writing. Choose a prompt that is relevant to you, and write about a topic that you care about. 

3. Answer The Entire Prompt 

As you outline, draft, and begin your writing, be sure that you have considered the prompt in its entirety. Do not skip over any questions that the prompt asks. Failing to answer a portion of the prompt may come across as lazy to your reader. 

4. Have Other People Read Your Work

Another important tip for submitting the best essay possible is having other peers read your work. It is easy to miss minor errors in your own work. Another person reading your work can also provide suggestions for areas that can improve. Some narratives may need supportive details to put the reader in your shoes. 

You may also receive feedback about the areas of your work where you can show off your writing skills to bring the reader in. In many cases, the person reviewing your work will spot grammar errors, spelling errors, or opportunities to make your writing more precise that you may not see yourself. 

5. Focus On The Purpose Of The Writing

If you struggle to write an effective essay, it can be helpful to remind yourself of the focus of your work: to offer your reader a deeper insight into who you are as a person. You will need to dedicate significant space on the page to talking about yourself. 

This can feel like a daunting task, but remember, your admissions counselor is reading your work to know you beyond your test scores, GPA, and class rank. Use the Common App essay as an opportunity to show off your writing skills while talking about the things that are important to you. 

6. Use The Entire Space Available To You

Another tip is using the entire space available to you when writing and submitting your Common App essay. This means you must pay attention to the word count limits and submission boxes. You should write as close to the word limit as possible. The Common App essay should fall somewhere under 650 words.

7. Edit, Revise, Repeat 

One last tip for submitting the best essay possible is editing and revising many times before submitting your work. Your Common App essay must not have grammar errors or obvious mistakes. Remember, this essay offers students the opportunity to stand out in the pile of other applications. 

If your essay lands next to a student with the exact same GPA, test scores, and class rank as you, you need to have made your best effort to stand out to the admission officer and receive an acceptance letter. Small errors make a big difference, so take the time to edit your work!

Perfecting your Common App essay is an important step in your preparation for submitting college applications. To ensure that your Common Application stands out, be sure that you submit competitive test scores as well. 

Consider these suggestions when you compose your college application essay as well as FLEX College Prep’s Admissions Consulting Services which can help you even more with college applications and essays. Our essay experts will walk you through every step of the process to guarantee that your college application essay is competitive and that it covers all the vital aspects of an effective application essay, improving your essay writing skills and increasing your chances of acceptance!