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Common App Essay Prompts 2021-2022

Updated: Feb 26, 2021

New perspectives and new ways of doing things seem to be the name of the game this year in everything we do, including college admissions. The Common Application is no exception. They have released their essay prompts early this year and for the first time in several years, they are changing it up...but just a little.

The Common App has taken out the question below and it is no longer one of their prompts:

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 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 question gave students the opportunity to talk about their passions, their goals, and their achievements in a way that focused on themselves: a “humble brag” so to speak. This questions has been replaced with one that gives students the opportunity to look outward, relating more to gratitude and the importance of others:

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?

Additionally, Common App has kept the optional prompt below that relates to the pandemic that they added for the first time last year:

Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces (250 word limit)

Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N

Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.

Both of these newer prompts are a sign of the times during the pandemic. College admissions, like our society, is putting emphasis on community, activism, and caring for others. Colleges want to know who you are and not just what you have done.

Below is the full list of prompts for the main Personal Statement Essay for the 2021-2022:

  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. 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?

  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.

In addition, Common App is keeping the Additional Information prompt which has a 650 word limit. This gives students the opportunity to share any special circumstances or explanation that is not already included in the application.

For undergraduate college admissions, the personal statement, or college essay, is the one place where you have complete control over what you share. These prompts are out early and give you plenty of time to start brainstorming about what matters most to you. The prompts, themselves, aren’t actually as important as they may seem. They are there to inspire you and to make you think. These 650 words are your golden opportunity to show a college what makes you unique and why you will be an asset to their community. You get to shine and show your strengths beyond your grades, classes, and (likely optional) test scores. It is your time to show the admissions committee what kind of community member, roommate, and friend you would be on campus.

The essay, when done with thought, patience, and care, can offer admissions officers valuable insight into who a student really is, what motivates them, and what they will bring to a college. Your essay weaves your personality into your application and lets you show a more personal side of you.

Most of all, your college essay is your chance to be your authentic self and have fun with a process that can otherwise feel impersonal, and often stressful.

Contact for help brainstorming how best to share your unique story or for support in any part of your college admissions process.

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