Personal Statement Prompts Common App

The Common Application has announced that the 2018-2019 personal essay writing prompts will be the same as the seven 2017-2018 essay prompts. By conducting a review process every other year, rather than annually, we can hear from admissions officers, as well as applicants, parents, and counselors, about the effectiveness of the essay prompts. 

With the announcement of the essay prompts and the ability for applicants to roll over their Common App account each year, counselors can introduce their juniors to the Common App now to help them start thinking about the application process. For more information, go to Common App Ready, a series of ready-to-use resources, presentations, training videos, and handouts covering everything from account creation through submission. Last year, we expanded this free tool with Spanish language translations. 

2018-2019 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. 

The most popular essay prompt of the 2017-2018 application year (through January 5, 2018) is "Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth..." (23.6%), followed by the topic of your choice option (22.5%), and "Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful..." (21.4%). 

"Through the Common App essay prompts, we want to give all applicants - regardless of background or access to counseling - the opportunity to share their voice with colleges. Every applicant has a unique story. The essay helps bring that story to life," said Meredith Lombardi, Associate Director, Outreach and Education, for The Common Application.

Class of 2022 – it’s about that time. The first milestone in your college application journey has officially arrived.

Today the Common Application released their 2017-18 essay prompts. This reveal comes with a heaping helping of good news, most of which relates to the fact that the prompts have not changed all that much from last year’s selection. In addition, your options have expanded! We don’t want to keep you in too much suspense, so before we break things down, here are the prompts with notes from the Common App about any changes from last year’s prompts in brackets:

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. [No change]

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? [Revised]

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? [Revised]

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. [No change]

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. [Revised]

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? [New]

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. [New]

Now that you know what you’re up against (not so bad, right?), here are three main things you need to know about the 2017-18 Common App essay prompts:

  1. There Are More Questions with Broader Boundaries: This year the Common App is offering students seven (yes, SEVEN!) prompt options. Many of this year’s prompts closely, if not exactly, reflect last year’s choices. Of the five prompts assigned to the 2016-2017 applicants, two questions are exactly the same as last year and three have been adjusted slightly to reflect feedback from counselors and admissions officers in an attempt to open up the interpretation of the questions and give students more freedom. There are also two completely new prompts, including the return of the “topic of your choice” option we are certain this year’s students will be happy to see.
  2. 650 is the magic number: The word limit for the personal statement remains at 650, which we love. We have found our students are able to tell a thoughtful and complete story within this space, and the Common App seems to continue to feel confident that the majority of applicants and admissions officers are satisfied with this length. Be prepared to come at admissions with a little over a page’s worth of self reflection and insight!
  3. The Stork Has Come Early: The Common App’s essay prompts have been delivered to us quite early in the year for this application cycle (thank you, Common App!). This means you can start wrapping your head around the prompts now, as opposed to over the summer or – gasp! – this coming September. We know it may feel overwhelming to begin sifting through essay prompts this early in the year, but trust us – preparation is the key to avoiding panic down the line. Read through these prompts and become familiar with what they’re asking. Take notes throughout the rest of your junior year as you recognize the themes popping up in your daily life, relationships and goals. You will be surprised how many scenarios and memories will illuminate that light bulb once you know what you’re looking for.

Overall, we could not be more thrilled with the 2017-18 prompt options. While we still maintain our philosophy that the prompts don’t really matter (what matters is that you find the right story to tell), this expansion of prompt selection should serve to ignite students’ creativity and reinforce the idea that there are many ways to arrive at a successful personal statement.

Be on the lookout for our comprehensive Guide to the 2017-18 Common App Essay Prompts, which will be released as soon as we can get our little elves to write it for us (luckily they take payment in leftover Superbowl nachos). In the meantime, take a peek at last year’s guide, which will undoubtedly prove useful, especially for the first five prompts. We’re here to support you on your college essay journey – so follow us on social media, check back with us frequently and get ready to write your winning essay!

Check out last year’s Guide to the Common App’s 2016-17 Prompts.

Get started with our self-paced video guide to writing a winning college essay!

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