2019-2020 Common App Essay Prompts

The Common Application has announced that the 2019-2020 essay prompts will remain the same as the 2018-2019 essay prompts. Based on extensive counselor feedback, the existing essay prompts provide great flexibility for applicants to tell their unique stories in their own voice. Retaining the essay prompts provides the added benefit of consistency for students, counselors, parents, and members during the admissions process.

Plus, with essay prompts remaining the same, students rolling over their existing Common App accounts have more time to plan and prepare their applications prior to the final year of high school.

2019-2020 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.

During the 2018-2019 application year, the most popular topic of choice was: “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.” (24.1%). The next most popular topics were: “Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.” (23.7%), followed by “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?” (21.1%).

“The prompts as they exist today offer a broad range of approaches, accommodating students with a diverse set of experiences and ideas about the world to respond in a thoughtful and illuminating manner,”‘ said Ian Watson, Associate Director of College Counseling at The Rivers School (Weston, MA).

Contact us to learn more about how we help students craft a killer Common App essay!

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Juniors: Prep Now to Write Your Story for College

My January recommendation for juniors?

Sign up for YouSchool’s new Backstory course. Over four weeks, you will be guided through a series of video exercises with questions and prompts to self-reflect about all the foundational elements of your backstory. From it, you will better you understand how the elements of your backstory have set you on your path in life.

The process works: YouSchool has taken thousands of people through it and knows that if you do the work, you’ll gain a clear sense of what story you’re living in. You are also provided the structure to engage in deep conversations with people you trust (parents, teachers, friends, college counselors!). Backstory is a fantastic way to gear up for personal statement writing.

 

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January Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors:

  • If you have RD applications due in mid-January that you did not submit, finish those up ASAP. Same goes for 2/1 deadline apps; there is no reason to wait!
  • For RD schools, consider writing interest letters, and make sure your school sends midterm grade reports where required.
  • If you were deferred, work on your deferral letter this month and aim to send it mid-month.
  • Thank everyone who helped you with your college process, and take some time to enjoy what is left of high school.

Juniors:

  • Testing: Once you are in prep-mode it is best to just keep going. The sooner you are finished testing, the sooner you can begin to finalize your college list. If you have a preliminary list, February break is a great time to visits colleges. Plan some visits.
  • Confirm your summer plans. Next summer is a wonderful opportunity to do something really meaningful (and perhaps even fun!) that will help you tell your story to colleges.
  • Open a Common App account. Accounts rollover year-to-year, so there’s no better time than now to open an account and familiarize yourself with the system.
  • Start to think about your senior year schedule. Do you know what you will be taking? Your senior classes should be the most challenging of your four years.
  • Resolve to check your email daily. Why? Colleges communicate with students via email. Most schools track whether you open emails and if you click through them; more engagement is seen as more interest (schools use interest in the admissions process). Make checking and engaging with any college-related email a habit in 2019.
Sophomores & Freshmen:
  • Are you planning to take SAT subject tests in May or June? If so, come up with a prep plan now.
  • An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. Study hard.
  • Speaking of courses, when do you pick your courses for 11th grade? Keep in mind you want to take a more rigorous course schedule each year.
  • Now is the time to build your story for college! Have you gotten more involved with any of your extracurricular activities? Have you thought about what you might want to major in? A great place to start exploring your academic interests is Khan Academy.
  • One way that your “story” is conveyed in your app is through your resume. Work on your resume now.
  • Many 2019 summer program applications will open soon. Begin thinking about your plans for summer 2019 now so you can get ahead of deadlines and work on applications if needed.
  • Replace one hour of social media, Netflix, or TV per week with time on Ted ED. Explore what intrigues you! Maybe it’s the history of cheese, particle physics, or what makes a poem a poem. Whatever you find interesting, take some time to be intentional about learning more in the new year!

 

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One Weekend = Finish Your Personal Statement

Who you are doesn’t change between the second half of junior year and the time you apply to college, so why wait any longer to write your personal statement?

For the past couple of years, we had a small group of students write their personal statements over their winter break or shortly after the new year. The result: far less stress later in the year because one of the most important parts of their application was already complete. Same amazing writing we always help students produce, even less stress. That is what we are all about!

This year we are formally offering weekend-long personal statement bootcamps for motivated, spring/summer-time-crunched, or any juniors who simply want to get ahead.

Space is limited for winter 2019. Contact us today to discuss scheduling!

Conquer the Common App: Additional Information Section Advice

Georgia Tech’s admissions blog is quickly becoming one of my new favorites. You can read the full post “WHAT THE…?!,” but I wanted to include just the end of it below. Many applicants want to try to include information in the Additional Info section of the Common App (and other apps), but it is not always appropriate. That section is not there to explain something they won’t care much about (why you dropped a club senior year that is not a significant part of your profile), or to include an extra essay or piece of creative writing (you can do this on many portals AFTER you apply), or to paste in your full resume (warning: this never works with the simple formatting of the CA and other apps so please do not do this). See part of Rick Clark‘s article below for what I agree is appropriate:

Significant Life Events

You had mono as a junior and missed the first two months of school. Your parents’ divorce was finalized in the summer before senior year but the end of eleventh grade was filled with turmoil. You moved three times during high school due to a parent’s job transfer, promotion, or loss. These are just some of the examples we see in this section. Readers appreciate the perspective you can provide and they will make notes or highlight pertinent pieces they believe are relevant to their review and admissions decision, especially as it relates to overcoming challenges, persevering, or demonstrating tenacity/grit. In some cases, this information may lead them to add to or revise their notes from prior sections.

Academic Context

Readers want to know if your schedule choices were impacted during high school. Are some courses only offered at certain times? Was a class you had hoped to take canceled due to low enrollment? If you moved multiple times during high school, readers will see that on your transcript, but you also have an opportunity to tell them what impact that may have had. If your move precluded you from being able to take a certain course or begin on a particular curricular track upon arriving at your new school, feel free to elaborate in this space.

Additional Activities

There are times when the activity section is too limited in space for you to demonstrate the extent to which you contributed. Often this surrounds a business you started, a fundraiser you need to provide more details about, or additional levels of achievement from an activity you listed earlier in the application. Remember, this is “additional” for you—and to an extent it is additional for admission committees. HINT: Put your strongest, most compelling information FIRST in the activity section. Do not intentionally bleed over into additional information unless it is absolutely essential to convey the depth of your work or time.

Still unsure?

Ask your school counselor for their advice. See what their experience has been in the past with students who have used this section. You can also simply call or email the school you are applying to and ask them for their advice.

This is a section about necessary whys or what else—not the place for another essay. Instead, readers evaluate this section looking for pieces of information that provide valuable context (inside or outside the classroom) that you cannot convey elsewhere. Do not over think it! If you believe you have something noteworthy to add, then use this section. Readers will incorporate what they deem helpful and dismiss what they do not. It is as simple as that. It will not hurt you if you do not complete this section (again, most students do not), or if you include something that is deemed irrelevant.

It is called “extra” or “special” because it is not standard. Readers will not combine those two words in their head and assume any applicant completing this section is “extra special.”

 

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Mid Year Report Reminder

Mid Year Reports should be submitted as soon as possible after first semester or trimester grades are available. Your counselor will be asked to provide information like your class rank, some details about GPA, and to provide an updated transcript.

The Common App recommendation system doesn’t send your counselor a reminder to complete this form. It is your responsibility to keep track of this requirement and ensure that the form is completed.

Once you have applied, many schools “portals” will note if you need to provide the mid-year report. You can also check on each schools website, as well as consult this list.

 

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ED II and RD – Quick Checklist

As you finish up apps for 1/1:

  • Have you interviewed everywhere you can interview?
  • Have you followed up/checked in with your regional rep?
  • Have you completed all optional materials (essays, resume uploads, videos, portfolios)?
  • Have you obtained an extra LOR?
  • Have you started to plan out your interest letter research and outreach?
  • Have you been opening up and clicking through the emails the schools on your list send you?
Contact us if you would like to discuss how we can help you get to the 1/1 finish line!

 

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You’ve Submitted Your Early Applications – Now What?

Congrats! Getting your early applications submitted is a huge accomplishment. Hopefully, you can take a weekend or two off from college application work and relax a bit. However, don’t relax too much or completely stop where you are! There’s plenty that can be done after you’ve pressed submit.

  • Continue to work on application materials (essays). Many schools require submission of RD apps by 12/1 for merit award consideration. Please plan to submit apps by 12/1 if the schools on your list fall into this category (you can find out by looking on their admission website). Some schools where this is the case include BU, USC, Wake, Vandy, UConn, and Richmond. College Kickstart also has a list here.
  • Track your application status. Once your applications have been submitted, be sure to track them online to ensure schools received all of your application materials. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a school is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (every day), so you do not miss correspondence from schools.
  • Prepare for interviews. Read my post on interview prep here, and start to practice with a teacher, friend, counselor, or family member.
  • Write an “interest” letter. This letter should fill in any gaps and or address things that you were not able to address in your application. This can be very helpful if a school has no supplemental essays. Consider including:
    1. A paragraph or two on academics if the school did not ask for a “why school” essay.
    2. A paragraph or two on extracurriculars if you were not able to cover these interests in much detail (or at all) in your application. Convey how you plan to contribute to the school via one or two important EC commitments.
    3. A paragraph that talks about the ways you have connected with and continue to get to know the school. This could include campus visits, setting up an informational interview with a local alum/a current student, or continuing to connect with your regional rep via email.
    4. A paragraph that reiterates your interest in the school, and that if admitted, you will attend. *If you are not 100% committed to attending, do not say so in the letter. This is also a given if you are applying ED.

Don’t forget: your grades are also very important! Do your best to maintain your grades/GPA; some schools will ask for midterm grade reports (or even call your counselor to check in on your progress!), and you want them to show consistency or an upward trend, not a downward trend.

 

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Last Minute Tips for 11/1 College Deadlines

It is time to press submit (if you haven’t already!)! A few things to keep in mind as you finalize applications:

  • Send official standardized test scores ASAP if the schools on your list require officials. Double check score reporting policies. Some schools require that you send all of your scores and do not participate in score choice.
  • Meet with your high school counselor and have them review all of your applications before you submit. After any final changes, print all of your applications and review them the old-fashioned way (using a pen, on paper). When you press the review/submit button (on the Common App), a PDF is generated, which is very easy to print. You can also generate a PDF in the Coalition App. Printing each app is not environmentally friendly, but worth it. Don’t final review apps on a screen. Print them and read them back to front.
  • Follow up with the teachers writing your letters of recommendation and encourage them to submit their letters now. Don’t forget to say thank you!
  • If you added “Other” recommenders to your applications—for example, a coach, work supervisor, or research mentor—shoot them a friendly reminder, too.
  • Track your application status after you submit. Once your applications have been submitted, be sure to track their status online to ensure schools received all of your application materials. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a college is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (daily), so you do not miss correspondence from schools.

 

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Common Application Account Rollover

From the Common App!

Account Rollover is designed to help everyone who is part of the college process learn about the Common Application – from students and parents to teachers and counselors. On the registration page, we ask you to identify your role, but everyone has the same application experience, no matter how they identify themselves. Anyone can create a Common Application account now, and their account will roll over from year to year, using the same username and password.

This means you can start exploring and working on the Common App whenever is best for you. You can begin by answering the questions in the seven sections of the “Common App” tab: ProfileFamilyEducationTestingActivitiesWriting, and Courses & Grades.

Some information won’t roll over each year, but you can complete these sections after the application launches each year.

When you come back, there are three key steps you’ll need to do in order to roll over your Common App account each year:

  1. Initiate. Sign in, using the same email address and password you used to create your account, and answer a few quick questions to initiate the rollover process.
  2. Explore the dashboard. The rollover process may take a few minutes, depending on the amount of information you stored in your account. As the rollover process occurs, you’ll be taken to your account Dashboard. This is where you’ll keep track of all of your application requirements. Take some time to explore the Dashboard. You’ll need to check it again and again throughout the application process.
  3. View Common App. After you explore the Dashboard, click to the Common App tab to continue working on your application. You may notice that some answers have not rolled over. Remember that some questions change from year to year, so your answers to those questions will not roll over. Don’t fret – you’re already way ahead of the game! Keep it going…