INDIA ABROAD June 2, 2017 18 CAMPUS AFFAIRS
he Common App
announced some significant changes for the
2017-2018 college admissions cycle. Two essays
have been added;
increasing the essay selection
from five to seven. Revisions
have also been made to three of
the five current choices.
The Common Application,
used by nearly 700 universities
worldwide, is the most widely
used college application.
Students select one essay prompt
and craft a response that is up to
650 words. Each university the
student applies, using the
Common App, will see that
essay. As you can imagine, this is
one very important essay.
Now, the big question is: Which
essay prompt is best?
Well, I do have my favorites.
But first, let’s discuss the point of
The college wants to know:
What can you offer? What makes
you different from the other
30,000+ applicants applying?
This is where your essay
comes in. The essay makes you
three dimensional; more than a
few sheets of paper. It is your
chance to show the university
how awesome you are, how you
are one-of-a-kind, and how lucky
they would be to have you at
The essay must add something to
Avoid reiterating things that
can be found on your application; the essay must add a new
Avoid summing up all your
extracurricular activities and
accomplishments; this can easily
be seen on your application.
Grab a cup of coffee because
we are breaking down each
essay: the good, the bad, and the
pitfalls to keep an eye out for.
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.
This used to be my favorite
prompt, but now it’s tied with #5
This prompt gives a student
leeway to tell a story of their
choosing. The topic selected
should feel easy to write about
and expresses something mean-
ingful about who you are.
Here are some questions to get
the creative juices flowing:
What makes your family dif-
ferent from other families?
Does your family celebrate
cultural holidays? Do any of
these hold a great significance to
Do you have a special family
What single achievement are
you most proud of?
What is the nicest thing
you’ve done for someone?
What do you aspire to be?
What have you done throughout
high school to explore this career
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?
The key here is to focus on
what you learned. Too many students spend way too many precious words focusing on the failure. Briefly, describe the setback
and spend the majority of your
word count detailing what you
learned, how you grew as a person, and why you are stronger
because of the experience.
Portray yourself as a fighter; a
person who has resilience and
3. Reflect on a time when you
questioned or challenged a belief
or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
Don’t fall for the bait here.
Please, please, please do not discuss controversial topics. Hate
Trump? Love Trump? Believe
marijuana should be legalized?
Doesn’t matter; this is not the
place for that type of discussion.
If you are asking yourself: Is my
topic controversial? The answer
is probably yes.
4. Describe a problem you’ve
solved or a problem you’d like to
solve. It can be an intellectual chal-
lenge, a research query, an ethical
dilemma — anything that is of per-
sonal importance, no matter the
scale. Explain its significance to
you and what steps you took or
could be taken to identify a solu-
tion. [No change]
I call this the Miss America
question. Hint: Your response
should not include the words
“world peace”. The problem
needs to be specific and personal
to you. The trick to watch out for
is the “or a problem you’d like to
solve” part. Colleges like doers.
The world is filled with planners
and dreamers. Few people actually take initiative and make
things happen. If you discuss a
problem you’d like to solve,
make sure to detail the steps you
intend to take to improve the situation.
5. Discuss an accomplishment,
event or realization that sparked a
period of personal growth and a
new understanding of yourself or
One of my favs. See #1. Hard
to go wrong with this question.
This essay lends itself to an anecdote.
Ps: anecdotes are my favorite
way to open an essay.
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]
This is your opportunity to
show your love of learning. What
are you passionate about? How
have you cultivated this passion?
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]
What’s not to love about this
question; you can write anything
you want. Heck, you can even
reuse a previous essay. But,
before you hit Ctrl c + Ctrl v and
paste that school essay you
received an A on, think for a
minute. Does this essay portray
who I am as a person? Provide
insight into my values? Highlight
the qualities I want the admissions staff, at my dream college,
to pay attention to?
There you have it, the seven
Common App essay prompts. As
the school year is winding down
and summer is about to kick off,
give yourself a gift. A gift of time.
Year after year, I hear the same
story from my students and their
parents. They are shocked how
much time and energy goes into
applying to college. The average
student applies to 7-12 universities. Each application can take up
to ten hours. Spend the summer
strategically and complete the
common app essay before senior
rolls around. It will free up a
great deal of time come fall. You
can thank me later.
Kristen Moon is an independent college
counselor and founder of
MoonPrep.com. She specializes in Ivy
League, Gap Year, BS/MD Programs,
and International Students.
What students need to know about the new Common App Essays
By Kristen Moon
THE LEARNING CURVE