The essay prompts for the Common App have officially been released! As college application season is coming close, it’s a good idea for students to start thinking about which topics they may want to write about for their personal statement and college essays.
So what is a personal statement? The Common App personal statement is one 650-word essay detailing something about you that you want to convey to admissions officers--hence the name “personal statement.” Your personal statement is not specific to a college and may be used to submit to multiple institutions that accept the Common App. In your personal statement, you want to find aspects of you that excite you, are unique to you, would show your application reader your personal and dimension, etc. One of the most factors of a personal statement essay is that it should be unique to you. If a college admissions officer asked you: tell me one thing about you. You may be thinking: there’s too much to say! However, in a personal statement, you want to put your best foot forward to show (not tell) colleges what kind of person you are and how are you unique from the many other students who are also applying to that university.
Here is an overview of each personal statement prompt for the coming application season and how you should approach each of them.
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.
This could be something about your personal background or ethnicity that you find very important and unique to you. If you are writing about a personal background, you want to make sure that you can convey it in a way that is very specific to you and how it has shaped you as a person and/or has affected your life. Sometimes the actual talent or interest itself does not have to be incredibly unique, but you have to find the most interesting and intriguing way to express that interest that is unique to your taste.
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?
This is a prompt that details overcoming failure. If you are considering this prompt, keep in mind that being vulnerable and noting past failures is totally okay. Colleges aren’t looking for a flawless student, but rather someone who has a growth mindset and unique personality they find desirable. When writing about this prompt, make sure that you learn something from the failure and have some sort of iteration of a growth mindset (second part of the prompt is most important).
3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
This is where you can be more “radical.” Try to avoid topics that may be controversial or taking a political stance. This may also be similar to prompt #1 if you are debunking a stereotype by being someone different in an underrepresented community.
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.
This is where you can unleash your innovative mindsets! Or, if you have personally faced an issue or have observed a personal or social problem that you solved (ie. changes you’ve made to the student body as ASB president), then this could be a great one where you can express yourself as a game-changer.
5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
For this prompt, ensure you are focused on a certain accomplishment, event, or realization and not a multitude/plethora of events. How did something that happened in your life change you and made you who you are today?
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?
If you have a particular field of interest that greatly intrigues you, this is where you can pour all that passion for that specific topic. This could be related or unrelated to your major -- this is somewhere where you reveal to colleges the thing you’re most passionate about and why that makes you uniquely you
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.
The previous questions serve as guidance for personal statement essays, and if you have noticed, many are similar to each other. This is just to steer you in the right direction of fleshing out your personality through writing in your essays and to ensure that you are talking specifically about your traits. However, if there is something you deem is appropriate to express to colleges that do not fit any of the prompts, you can use this prompt as a means to do so.
The following information was taken directly from the Common Application website:
During the 2018-2019 application year, the most popular topic of choice was: “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.” (24.1%). The next most popular topics were: “Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.” (23.7%), followed by “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?” (21.1%).
Remember, the purpose of the personal statement is to talk about uniquely you, and to accentuate areas that make you positively different from other applicants. You may consider choosing a prompt that is not as popular, but don’t use that as a key factor to determine which prompt you ultimately choose. There is no “better” or more advantageous prompt except for the prompt you believe would best help you convey your personal character to admissions officers genuinely.
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