common application essay questions

Common Application Essay Questions

With the start of each new year comes the announcement of the Common Application essay questions that the next class of applicants will use as they apply to college this fall.

The Common App is used by over 900 colleges across the nation. It’s likely that your high school student will use it to apply to some colleges. The application goes “live” every year on August 1st.

If you are the parent of a rising senior, you may be surprised to realize how soon the application season will start!

You’ve got a student who will apply to college? There are so many things your family can do NOW to avoid panic and stress in the fall. Not sure what to do? Book a Private Consultation and we will bring you up to speed!

Each year the Common App reviews the effectiveness of last year’s prompts with admissions officers, applicants, parents, and counselors. For the Class of 2022, they have announced one change. They have removed an old, seldom used question about solving a problem, and replaced it with:

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

You will find the complete list of prompts you can choose to write about below.

If your student will complete a Common Application in the fall, you might not know that your student can get a jump start filling it out. Most of the information your student completes on the application will “roll over” at the August 1st date. Only a few things do not roll over: the “My Colleges” tab, the writing section of the “Common App” tab, and the recommendations section.

Why is this jump start important?

We see it every year. New seniors tackling a new year of school and activities (and just being seniors!) now have the whole college application process on top of that. Starting over the summer is such a popular idea that we created a College Application Workshop to help—especially with the essay question struggles.

At our workshop held every June (among other things), we bring in an outside expert to focus just on the essay writing portion. They teach students how to do this work, and they share valuable tips about topics and the writing process. We also continue to support and motivate your student throughout the summer so they can begin the fall school year with less stress. Click to read more about the College Application Workshop and reserve your seat today. Looking for an alternative to the workshops? Learn more about our Senior Private Consultations.

In the meantime, students can take a moment to read these. Perhaps they can start a notebook to document the thoughts about what essay prompt speaks to them. All early thinking is a great way to be prepared.

2021-22 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. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  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.

COVID-19 prompt

The 2020/21 application season saw the addition of an optional prompt that provided students a space to talk about how COVID-19 impacted their family. This prompt will be available again in 2021/22. The prompt is not meant for “normal” challenges that we all have faced during these difficult times. It is also not meant for adjustments to school procedures that your counselor will address. It is meant as a truly optional opportunity for students to talk about those challenges outside the norm that they may have faced due to COVID-19 or other natural disasters. You can read about it here.

Does your student need some help with their essay? Visit our Friends of At The Core page for our recommended contacts.

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