The five prompts that will appear on the “new” Common Application should allow for nearly any topic you might choose. Below are some suggestions for academic, extracurricular, and personal topics that might fit neatly into a response for each prompt. Of course, these are just suggestions, designed to jumpstart your thinking, provide a gentle nudge if you feel stumped, and to help you decide which prompt might provide the best opportunity for you to show the admission office who you are. Your response to any college-essay prompt should be entirely personal and one that only you could write; these examples are just to get your essay juices flowing!
The common app asks for in depth topics such as describe the influence of a significant person on you. Something that would be hard to get down into 250 word. If that person moved you so much how is it you have so little to say.
Honestly, I think they’re awful and will lead to a glut of cliched essays, without leaving room for the student to show something of him or herself that doesn’t happen to fit one of those fairly narrow topics.
My college counsellor told me that most admissions officers stop reading after about 500 words anyways (she used to read apps for U of Michigan). Although there was no word limit, I cut mine down from almost 800 words to 400 something words. It was the best thing I could have done to my essay. Even though the longer version later won two writing awards, the shorter one packed more of a punch and was more appropriate for the task at hand, no matter how “elegant” all those extra words might have been.
I think it is a cop out of the common app to not fix their system so that if they want under 500 word then writers cannot submit longer. Mean what you say and do what you mean is the lesson they are “not” advertising.
We’d like to hear your thoughts on this. What do you think of the Common App’s new essay prompts? Are you upset that the “topic of your choice” is no longer an option? Please join the discussion in the comments box below.
The Common App will still be a stickler for essay lengths, as we reported in October. However, the maximum has increased to 650 words. (The previous limit was 500 words.) The Web-only application will not accept essays with fewer than 250 words.
College advisor Alice Kleeman joins us today in our ongoing series on the changes to the Common Application with some excellent guidance for students and how to think about the new essay prompts and an entertaining look back on some of the essays that have been favorites in her twenty years advising students.
I wonder whether the fit between the question and the answer is really that important. What if the applicant treated any of these prompts as an invitation to write a “topic of your choice” essay? If the writing is strong and interesting, surely a student can find a way to claim that the ideas in it are “central to their identity” or relate to failure, contentment, challenging a belief or idea, or marking a transition to adulthood.
I find these new topics to be uninspiring and unlikely to trigger much interesting thought, but if a student is able to find a topic that truly interests him or her, I believe most essays could be shoe-horned into one of these topics. I will suggest that my daughter should come up with a topic of her choice first, and fit it into one of these questions afterwards.
As a clinical psychologist and professional essayist (I wrote a weekly series of essays for the NYTimes some years back), I’ve helped thousands of urban public school kids write their college essays. The “topic of your choice” always allowed them the breadth they needed to start writing with no agenda — like therapy — and then find themselves transformed. The current prompts short-circuit that developmental process. A big loss.
Comparing it to my extended essay for the University of Chicago (706 words), my Common App essay is definitely not as well written, nor is it as creative. However, it does everything that it needs to do. Forcing myself to write a short essay was much harder than having free reign, but in the end, it demonstrates economy of language and forced me to carefully consider word choice and the effectiveness of what I was trying to say.
In , Matt Flegenheimer reports that the Common Application now asks that essays be between 250 and 500 words long. That upper limit was reimposed — after four years without one — amid feedback from admissions officers that essays had grown too long. But unlike other parts of the online application, which may cut off students midword , the essays are sent to colleges in full, and aren’t even labeled with word counts. Many seniors are pondering: to cut or not to cut?
This request seems a little strange to me. I would not enourage my child to send her essay to the New York Times before she submits it on her common app.