Strategies for Responding to Common Essay Prompts

Most college applications, including the Common App, ask students to write short essays. The prompts provided by each college vary, but admissions officers will usually read your essay to find out what skills, experiences, or interests make you unique.

In this article, we outline strategies for answering seven common essay prompts.

Prompt 1

“Discuss a meaningful background, identity, interest, or talent that is central to your application.”

When writing about your background, identity, interests, or talents, you should be careful not to turn your résumé into prose. Instead, write about a specific experience and use it to demonstrate why this aspect of your life is so meaningful. However, be careful not to come off as arrogant about your knowledge or skills.

Prompt 2

“Recall a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn?”

For this prompt, you should discuss how this experience changed your perspective and helped you grow as a person. Focus on the positive results that came from the challenging experience and humbly show how you overcame the obstacle.

Prompt 3

“Recall a time when you questioned a belief or idea. What motivated you to do so? What was the outcome?”

Questioning the status quo takes courage, and admissions officers want to see forward-thinking, pioneering attitudes. Explain why you questioned the idea, what happened as a result, and how this experience affected your worldview.

Prompt 4

“Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to find a solution.”

If you choose to write about a problem you have solved or would like to solve, concentrate on your passion for the issue and the significance of solving it. Explain why the problem is so important to you; show ingenuity, leadership, and entrepreneurism.

Prompt 5

“Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.”

In this essay, you should not discuss experiences that you have already mentioned elsewhere in the application. Therefore, you don’t need to write about your most impressive or prestigious accomplishments. Instead, describe an experience—even an ordinary one—that helped you grow as a person. Describe what you realized at that moment and how your perspective changed.

Prompt 6

“Describe a topic, idea, or concept that you find engaging. Why does it captivate you? Where do you turn when you want to learn more?”

You should use this prompt to demonstrate passion and focus. Write about why this concept or topic is so captivating. Also keep in mind that describing a memorable learning experience with a mentor or peer would be more effective than simply listing the resources you use to learn about the subject.

Again, the key is to take a meaningful event and use it to showcase who you are and what you consider important. Demonstrate how this idea has shaped and continues to shape you.

Prompt 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.”

If you choose to write an essay on a topic of your choice, focus on a specific experience and explain how it affected you. Use this essay to show that you will bring value to your potential college.

A well-written, compelling essay can go a long way in making your college application stand out. If you follow these strategies, you’ll show the admissions officers that you are the best candidate for their school. Ivy League Prep would be delighted to provide you with guidance on how to make your entire admissions process a success.