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Common App Essay Prompts are Up

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Common App has just announced 2020-2021 essay prompts will remain the same as the previous year and it will be the 4th year for Common App not to change its essay prompt. Does it have any implications on this arrangement?

By Hubert Ho | Head of Admissions Consulting Services, Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions

Common App has been a dominant platform for applying U.S. Colleges in recent decade. Conquering its essay prompt becomes the key to success in elite college admissions journey. Common App has just announced 2020-2021 essay prompts will remain the same as the previous year and it will be the 4th year for Common App not to change its essay prompt. Does it have any implications on this arrangement? Let us take a look at it closely for the past two years.

Common App Essay Prompts include the followings:

  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.
  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 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.
  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 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?
  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.

Referring to the statistics from U.S. College Board, during 2017-2018 application year, 24% of applicants chose prompt #5. Prompt #7 had 22% while prompt #1 had 21%. During the 2018-2019 application year, there is some changes. Prompt #7 was the most popular one with 24.1% of applicants choosing it. Prompt #5 ranked 2nd most popular with 23.7% whereas prompt #2 ranked the 3rd most popular with 21.1%. There is no data for 2019-2020 application year yet.

However, we can probably see there is an upward trend for applicants to pick essay prompt #7. Why is that? Will it be an indicator good enough for you as an applicant to follow? We can see that it is a free-flow question. You can fit in almost everything into this essay prompt. A lot of students will believe that it is good as they can mention anything they want. Unfortunately, many students will overlook a problem of misusing this essay prompt. It is not as free as you believe. As it is a free-flow question, you may write some contents related to the previous six essay prompts. If you still pick prompt #7 as your guiding prompt, it will show that you are lack of judgment skill. And prompt #7 always causes students to mention something off topic as there is no solid guidance at all.

As a result, it is always important for you to think about how to start the essay planning at the very beginning. If you want to know how to start your strategy to college admissions creatively, you can always find us.

Kaplan Admissions Counselor Hubert Ho, Common App Essay

Mr. Hubert Ho

Head of Admissions Consulting Services, Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions

Associate Member of IECA, Member of NACAC and AEE

MCom (Finance), UNSW

BCom (Management & Marketing), University of Wollongong

  • 10 years+ of experience in education industry
  • Proven track record helping students gain admission to US prestigious colleges including Yale University, Stanford University, Cornell University, UCLA, UC-Berkeley, New York University, Boston University

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