Essay Topics: Dealing With Compelling Common App Prompts

5 minutes read

Are you willing to know what to expect from your college application? That’s fair because an admission essay is almost your only chance to show members of the admissions committee who you are and to prove that you deserve to be studying at that institution. If you thought the scores you get on exams and tests, and the final grades for different high school disciplines, are enough to stand out from the other applicants and to be accepted, you were wrong.

Such a piece of writing is important. However, if you were required to write a new essay to every college you want to enter, you would lose your mind soon. Therefore, many colleges accept a common app essay, which is a paper that doesn’t specify a particular topic and simply serves as a way for an applicant to tell a story about him or herself to impress the committee. The length of such an essay is typically about 250-650 words.

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Here is a list of possible prompts for this year:


  • A personal story:
    Every student has some talents, interests, and background, which form their personality and make them different. If you truly believe you have something that makes you unique, share your personal story.
  • An important lesson learned:
    People make mistakes, face difficulties, solve problems, and learn from negative experiences. You must have had such an experience too. Describe the situation and share the influence it had on your outlook.
  • Thoughts and doubts concerning a common belief:
    Have you ever questioned a concept or an idea that is generally accepted? What caused you to think about it this way and what conclusion have you come to?
  • A solution to a personal problem:
    We all happen to face some challenges from time to time and are in a constant search for solutions. Recount a problem or a dilemma that bothers you and is of a real personal importance and explain how you have dealt or are planning to deal with it.
  • Personal growth experience:
    Remember the time in your life when some event or situation made you think of your own life or life in general in a different way and helped you reinvent some concept in your perception of the world.
  • A story about interests:
    Everyone has something that captivates them very much. Share what captivates you, be it an idea you can’t get out of your head or an activity you can’t stop doing, and explain why it seems so interesting to you.
  • An essay on a topic of your choice:
    Choose a subject you want to discuss or a story you want to share and write an essay about it. For example, this can be a paper you had written before in class and received an “A” for it.

Preparing To Deal With Common App Essay Prompts

Now you are familiar with the common app essay prompts and can get prepared beforehand. Below are several tips for each prompt to help you out.

Telling About Yourself

You should keep in mind that admissions committee members read all these essays in order to understand who you are and how you fit the academic community you aim to enter. Honesty and creativity attract attention the most. Therefore, think of something that makes you a unique and interesting personality, share a story about it, and make sure it demonstrates your beliefs or identity. Avoid a mere enumeration of your high school accomplishments and biography facts the committee can read in other application documents you submit.

Learning A lesson

Since you want to impress the college representatives and show them your best sides, you may find it difficult and illogical to tell about the obstacles you have faced. However, remember that the ability to learn from negative experiences is a positive trait. Demonstrate your persistence, diligence, and wisdom by writing about the time you had problems, discussing how you managed to deal with them, and pondering on the effects this had on your life and ideology.

Questioning A Common Idea

Here you can share a story about how someone or something has caused you to doubt a common belief or your own opinion about something. However, don’t choose to write a common app essay on this topic if you don’t have any specific experience like that. You will hardly impress the committee if you write about something general that doesn’t have any importance to you personally and doesn’t reveal any useful information about you to the reader.

Dealing With Difficulties

In this essay, you can aim at demonstrating your critical and problem-solving way of thinking. Very often things that people find problematic define who these people are. Although it doesn’t necessarily have to be a serious problem you have managed to solve, make sure it’s a reasonable obstacle, and it’s a relevant topic to share with the admissions committee. For example, writing about how you managed to recover after breaking up with your ex is a bad idea. Instead, you can share how you coped with your childhood trauma or worked on your weak sides.

Growing Personally

Colleges are interested in accepting smart and mature young people. As an applicant, you can show you are smart and mature enough by telling about your personal growth experiences, such as an achievement or a life-changing event. Still, don’t make a mere description; show how exactly you changed and explain why this change can be considered as growth.

Sharing Interests

Tackling this topic, keep in mind that colleges don’t pick students by deciding whose interests are more unique. Instead, they look for students who care about different things in the world and are always eager to learn more. Isn’t it who you truly are? If yes, take care to show the committee not only that you do have hobbies or are curious about some idea but also that there’s something that matters to you so much that you are ready to devote time and/or spend money for it. Also, explain what it takes to do it, for example, attend additional courses, drive to the nearby city to meet a person who helps you, wake up two hours earlier than usual, etc.

Writing On Any Other Personal Topic

If you have written a brilliant essay before and believe it does tell something interesting about you, you’re welcome to use it as your common app essay. Also, you can write a paper answering a prompt you have seen in another college if you really liked it. Perhaps, you have a question bothering you, which you want to discuss – you can do that too. However, you need to always mind the fundamental things about a common application essay.

Final Tips

Speaking about the basics of an application essay, here is what you should remember:

  • You need to tell something that your grades sheet won’t tell.
    Avoid repeating about your achievements and success, which the admissions committee can find out reading other documents you attach to the essay (an application form, a high school diploma, other certificates, etc.). Tell what is behind all the digits and letters.
  • You can’t be shallow.

Instead of just describing things, ask yourself why and how they work – thus, you will reveal your ability to get to the insights and understand life.

Nicole Clark imageAbout the Author: My name is Nicole Clark. I’m a freelance writer. Deeply engaged in studying education topics. I have experience in writing works for famous media and educational blogs. I have my own blog on I also help students with writing essays and dissertations. I believe that the right choice of the topic is 90% success.



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