Tuesday, February 5, 2013

New Common Application Essay Prompts

There's been a good deal of speculation, controversy and confusion about the Common Application's decision to change their essay topics and word limits. For several years now, the  six prompts, including an open-ended "topic of your choice" option, and unlimited word count have remained the same.

The waiting ended yesterday when the Common Application released its new essay prompts as well as the news that essays written for the 2013-14 admissions season and beyond will now be subject to a 650 word maximum, after which the essay will be cut off. The essay may be no shorter than 250 characters.

While these new restrictions may be unsettling to some, on the upside, many of the prompts align closely with essay prompts for non-Common Application schools or with those required in supplement essays. And while the word limit may seem confining, it's still longer (usually by 150 words) than that of most essays for schools that use their own applications. Having to be concise and think closely about what you want to say and how you want to say it can also be a blessing in disguise; when it comes to college essays, less is almost always more.

And now...the new Common Application essay requirements:

Instructions. The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don't feel obligated to do so. (The application won't accept a response shorter than 250 words.)

• Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

• Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

• Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

• Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

• Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.


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