Believe it not, the Common App essay prompts 2022-23 generate controversy. Some advisors urge students to ignore them. They tell students just to write what they feel represents them and then pick a prompt. Slap it on at the end.
One coach argues that colleges don’t care which prompt you pick and may not even pay attention to it as they read. Well, OK, good for them.
But we’re talking about YOU, and making it as painless as possible to write your essay. And doing whatever we can to make your essay as powerful and persuasive at it can be.
As a college essay coach for 12 years, I know that writing the personal statement is incredibly fraught. The organization embedded in the prompts can reduce some of the anxiety. It can help you know how to get from sentence to sentence, from one paragraph to the next.
In other words, what if you think of the prompts as your friends? Pick one or two that connect with an experience you want to write about. The structure can be an enormous help — not a hindrance.
Over the years, the college essay prompts have evolved. Nine years ago, they changed dramatically. The current list is studied and analyzed every year by colleges and the Common App Organization. The consensus is that these essay prompts work. They make it (relatively) easy for students to produce a personal statement that conveys valuable information about who they are.
There are 7 Common App essay prompts. Applicants CHOOSE ONE and write an essay from 250 to 650 words. As intimidating as this feels before you do it, once you start writing, you’re likely to feel you won’t have enough room. But it’s better to write long than not write enough.
Many students gravitate to #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.
I have to confess, that’s the only one I steer clear of. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with writing whatever you want. In fact, it sounds like fun. No rules, no outlines, the sky’s the limit. But the absence of guidance can often lead to freezing up, shutting down, not knowing where to start. Too many choices.
Prompts 1 through 6 provide some structure. Knowing what questions to answer, you’re not alone in the ocean of your entire life experiences, wondering which way to swim.
The other essay prompts — with the except of #1 — offer real structure and intention. Those can be helpful in choosing a topic, knowing where to start, and what to say next.
Look for Outlines in the Common App Essay Prompts 2022-23
Outlines of a sort are embedded in the prompts if you know where to look for them.
Most prompts are made up of three sections that you should focus on; think of it as a 3-act play. In the list below, I have underlined each section. Prompts #4 and #5 are more before and after stories.
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. Do not write about something that is somewhere else in your application.
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? (This should involve a spoken confrontation, even if it’s with a relative, not just a time you wanted to question a belief or idea.)
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? BEFORE AND AFTER STORY
Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. BEFORE AND AFTER STORY
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.
Why are the Prompts So Effective?
The prompts elicit writing that enables college to become acquainted with you. Admissions officers want to see that you can write well, organize your thoughts, reflect on your experience, and trace a series of life events that have taken you from one place or understanding to another. The college admissions essay prompts are designed to elicit a spark of personality, your intellectual curiosity, and your desire to be part of an academic community.
Most colleges require further essays known as supplements that vary enormously from school to school. You might write about your academic interests, subjects you want to study and/or why you want to attend that college. Supplements can range in length from 35 characters to 650 words. The University of Chicago essays are famously quirky. I have several posts about them here and here. Students can submit their own ideas or use a prompt from years before.
Please shoot me an email or call me (Eastern time!) to find out more about the Common App essay prompts 2022-23 and strategies.
My website is full of resources for the Common App essay prompts 2022-23, the supplements, other essays, and all related admissions matters.
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