The summer of COVID-19! Is it looking a little different for you than expected? No school, no summer job, no hanging out at the community pool or movie theater or coffee shop? You may find yourself with some extra time these days.
The college admission process is also looking different than expected for fall. Many colleges have opted to be test optional for the first time. This means that admission officers are faced with the task of distinguishing between highly qualified students without relying on test scores. How do you choose between hundreds or thousands of applicants who have excellent grades and challenging classes on their transcripts? Needless to say, your essay is one part of the application that can help you stand out.
So why not spend some extra time this summer refining your essays. Especially at test optional schools, your essay can take on special significance. The Common App essay prompts are the same as last year. If you haven’t already started on your Common App essay, now is the time. In addition, Common App has added a special “Additional Information” optional essay about how COVID-19 has impacted you. Should you write this extra essay? Brad Schiller, founder and CEO of Prompt (a writing feedback company), has some advice for you in his blog. You should also check to find out if any of the schools on your list require supplemental essays or short answer questions.
If you are applying to colleges that do not use the Common App, check the college websites to get their essay topics.
Write something! Get a first draft of your college essays started now. This will give you plenty of time to get feedback from multiple people (parents, counselor, teachers, even friends). It will also give you a chance to put it aside for now and come back to it later.
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
- 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.
- 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?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- 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.
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- 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?
- 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.
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?
Tomorrow is August 1, a significant date in college admissions. It’s essentially the “kick off” date for the college application process – the day the Common App goes live. Common App you say? What’s that? Let’s review some frequently asked questions:
- What is the Common App?
To put it simply – it’s a college application form used by nearly 900 colleges in the US and around the world. You can fill out just one “Common Application” and submit that same application form to all (or many) of the schools on your list.
- Are there any schools that do not use the Common App?
Yes – some common examples include colleges in the University of California System (UC Berkeley, UCLA, etc. use the UC Application), along with many public universities in Texas (UT Austin, Texas A&M, etc. use the Apply Texas application). A wide variety of colleges and schools accept other application forms like the Coalition Application, or only accept their own application form just for their college. It’s best to check on the college website or in GuidedPath to find out what application form is required for each college on your list.
- What about the application essay?
One of the benefits to using the Common App is the opportunity to write just one college essay. The Common App provides seven essay prompts – you choose just one and write a single college essay that you will send to all the schools that accept the Common App. However, some colleges do require an “Application Supplement” specific to their college. Some of these application supplements require an additional essay. So again – check on the college website, the Common App, or GuidedPath to verify application essay requirements.
- How do I get started?
As of tomorrow, August 1, you can log on to the Common App and create an account if you don’t already have one. From here you can begin to fill out your student profile – essentially this is the application. You’ll record everything a college will need to know about you – demographic, academic, and co-curricular information. In addition, you can start adding colleges to your Common App list – this will become the list of schools that you apply to using the Common Application. And finally, check out those essay prompts. It’s never too early to start (or finish) your Common App essay. That will be one more thing checked off your list before senior year begins.
This year Common App has a new look and feel, and a more mobile friendly application so hopefully applying to colleges will be even easier. If you created a Common App account in the past, you should still be able to log in to the new site but you’ll likely notice that the application looks different than it did before.
Use GuidedPath to determine which schools on your list accept the Common App. You can see this on the List Summary screen under the Colleges menu. If you are applying to any Common App schools, create your Common App account and start your profile and your essay(s) soon.