Tag college essays

It’s never too early to start your college essays.

Last week, the Common Application announced that the essay prompts for 2020-2021 will remain the same as they were in 2019-2020 application.  So, what are you waiting for?  Now is a great time to start brainstorming topics for your Common App essay.    

 2020-2021 Common Application Essay Prompts 

  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. 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. 
  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. 

During the 2018-2019 application year, the most popular topic was #7: “Share an essay on any topic of your choice…” (24.1%).  With this last prompt, you have free rein to write about practically anything.  How should you decide?   

Keep in mind that the colleges will already have a lot of information about you in your application – your high school transcript, your activity list, demographic information, maybe even recommendations.  Your essay is an opportunity to tell the college something they don’t already know – to give them greater insight on what makes you – YOU!  The key is to find a topic that allows you to tell your most important story in an authentic voice.  

Take Action 

Look at each Common App essay prompt.  Give yourself two minutes for each question (set a timer) and jot down the first idea (or two or three) that comes to mind.  Some prompts may spark multiple ideas – some may challenge you to really think.  However, in less than 15 minutes, you’ve already created a working list of essay topics.   

Put this list away for now and try this exercise again in a week or two.  Do you find yourself gravitating to one or two of the questions?  Which answers come most naturally to you?  Which is your most important story?

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The Do’s and Don’ts of College Essay Writing

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It’s September – time to finalize your college essays.  Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to guide you. 

College Essay General Do’s and Don’ts 


  1. Do be concise and write about something you know. 
  2. Do be open and authentic.  Reveal something about your identity in your essay. 
  3. Do show rather than tell. Giving examples and illustrating your topic brings it to life. 
  4. Do write in your own “voice” and style. 
  5. Do have multiple people help you edit your essay for grammar, spelling, and context (parents, friends, your counselor, etc.). 


  1. Don’t write what you think others want to read. 
  2. Don’t exaggerate or write to impress. 
  3. Don’t use a flowery, inflated, or pretentious style of writing. 
  4. Don’t ramble—say what you have to say and conclude. 

Your college essay, along with your high school record, standardized test scores, and extracurricular involvement, will provide the basis upon which the college makes its admissions decision.  A thoughtful, well-written essay can positively affect that final decision.  Keep this in mind and take full advantage of the opportunity which the college essay affords you. 

Take Action
View the essay topics under the ESSAYS tab in GuidedPath for all the colleges on your list.  Keep all your essay drafts in one place under the cloud storage section of your GuidedPath account.  From there, you can share your drafts with your advisors, teachers or counselors.

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Which college essay type are you?

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Struggling with those dreaded college essays?  Don’t know where to start? “The College Essay Guy”, Ethan Sawyer, breaks down the process of getting to a first draft of your college personal statement in 3 hours!  

In his free guide, “The Essay Workshop in a Box” – Ethan teaches you how to write a great college essay using two options from screenwriting/filmmaking – the Narrative Structure or the Montage Structure.  

In one of the exercises Ethan uses, you start by answering the following questions:

  1. Have you faced significant challenges? (You define “significant.”)
  2. Do you know what you want to study?

Having answered the questions above, you could classify yourself into one of four essay types:

Check out the rest of the Essay Workshop in a Box by the College Essay Guy – maybe you’ll finish that personal statement this afternoon! 

Take Action 

You can view the essay prompts for all the schools on your list in GuidedPath. Which of your college choices has the most questions? Which one has the least?  Do any of your colleges not require essays? Use GuidedPath to keep all your essay requirements in one place. 

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