While it is still early to be thinking about next school year's college admission season, the Common Application has released its prompts for the 2017-2018 school year. Usually the prompts have few or no revisions from the previous year, but this year, most prompts have been revised and some have even been added. In other words, there will be new considerations and approaches for the questions, so don’t rely on what you’ve heard from older relatives, siblings, or friends!
So what are the prompts exactly? From the Common Application, they are as follows (changes/additions noted in italics):
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. [No change]
The most popular prompt receives no changes. This makes sense considering how broad the question is. Students are free to discuss nearly anything about themselves, something which both students and college admissions officers LOVE.
2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced achallenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? [Revised]
The previous year’s prompt was focused only on a failure, but now the wording of the prompt opens it up to an obstacle, so the language of the question is posed in a more positive way and will definitely allow for more varied and interesting responses.
3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? [Revised]
“Questioned” is a major addition to this prompt. It gives the student a chance to consider a time when they didn’t necessarily deny or think in opposition to something, but when they doubted. This is a more cerebral response and it will be great to see the nuances. Also, notice how “your thinking” has replaced “you to act” and “What was the outcome?” has replaced “Would you make the same decision again?” The question now focuses on the particular event instead of making it entirely about challenging the status quo--so more student-focused and less prompt-focused. Basically, Common App made a great prompt even better; it’s still one of my favorites!
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. [No change]
This question, like the first one, is already so broad that it doesn’t need revision. It isn’t as popular as the first question, but it is still a great prompt to answer.
5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. [Revised]
This prompt, as you can tell from all the italics, was heavily revised. It originally said, “Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.” Notice, again, that Common App took a more specific question and made it broader. It is not about just a transition from childhood to adulthood; it is open to any personal growth.
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? [New]
The first of the two new prompts is essentially a “What are you really passionate about?” question. Thankfully, it goes a little bit deeper than that and asks good follow-up questions to make the response more layered. This will definitely be worth considering for your essay topic.
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. [New]
The second of the two new prompts is a repeat from a few years ago. This one is the cream of the crop when it comes to broad prompts. You can write about anything, but you should still be mindful that "anything" should still fit within the suggested parameters of college admissions essays. (I’ll get to that in a later post.)
Broad--that’s the takeaway from these Common Application changes. Admissions officers and students want more freedom in the prompts so the essays can engage the most personal aspects of an individual’s background. They all look like good changes that will help people unlock the best memories and experiences to get them to their dream colleges. I’ll write more on how you should tackle specific prompts later, but it never hurts to start thinking about your high school years and how they apply to these questions.
We at B2A are now starting to register new students who would like to be part of our 2017-2018 Gateway Program, which will help students through all parts of the admissions process, including the essay brainstorming, drafting, and editing part. There are other options as well that focus on specific areas of the application, so do check out all of our college admissions services. And if you’re still working your way through high school or middle school, take a look at our other programs that will put you in the best place when college application season comes around.