Common Application

2021-2022 Common App Essay Prompts – New Prompt Alert!

2021-2022 Common App Essay Prompts – New Prompt Alert!

 

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?

They will also retain the optional COVID-19 question within the Additional Information section.

The new prompt is inspired by scientific research on gratitude and kindness, specifically the benefits of writing about the positive influence of other people in our lives.

This mindset resonates with Common App President & CEO Jenny Rickard. “Particularly at this challenging time, we can help students think about something positive and heartfelt in their lives,” she explains. “And we can do it explicitly.”

In crafting the new option, they relied on the expertise of counselors and admission officers on our Outreach and Application Advisory Committees, along with input from psychology and gratitude researchers. Together, these educators understand the ingredients of a successful essay prompt. The final language they helped to shape balances flexibility with direction. They believe the new choice will generate stories that students are inspired to write and that colleges are excited to read.

An essay prompt can’t erase the loss and anxiety of the last 12 months, but it can validate the importance of gratitude and kindness. The CA hopes students see the new prompt for what it is intended to be: an invitation to bring some joy into their application experience.

Below is the full set of essay prompts for 2021-2022.

  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.
  1. 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?
  1. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  1. 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?
  1. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  1. 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?
  1. 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.

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January Action Plan – By Grade

January Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors:

  • If you have RD applications due in mid-January that you did not submit, finish those up ASAP. The same goes for 2/1 deadline apps; there is no reason to wait!
  • The process of applying to college is not over after you press submit, so keep checking those online portals! Some schools require a mid-term grade report as noted on the application instructions (found online). It can be helpful to generate that list and let your school counselor know so it is sent as soon as grades are released. Also, many schools require it even after you have been admitted. 
  • Grades are still important. Even one grade below your “normal” can be cause for concern; we’ve had students receive letters from schools after they had been admitted for a grade that “dipped” too far, threatening their admission could be taken away. Avoid this by maintaining your GPA.
  • 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 (especially your parents!), and take some time to enjoy what is left of high school between now and the rest of your admissions results.

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.
  • 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 2021.

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 2021 summer program applications will open soon. Begin thinking about your plans for summer 2021 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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Optional Components of the College Application

Optional Components of the College Application

If you want to maximize your chances of acceptance, don’t consider any optional components of a college application optional. Here are some common optional components:

  • Essays
  • Interviews
  • Videos submissions
  • Letter of recommendation (any or extras)

Option to write an optional essay? Write it.

Option to Interview? Sign up (then prepare for it…more on that here and here).

Option to create and send a video introduction, for example, like CMC, U Chicago and Bowdoin offer? Do it.

Option to send an extra letter of recommendation, or to send one at all if optional (many schools require zero LORs, so if you can submit one as an option….)? Request one and have it sent.

Why submit optional materials? It means you want to go above and beyond what other applicants will do to demonstrate who they are as well as their commitment to being accepted to the school to which you are applying. You are giving yourself the opportunity to let the admissions committee get to know more about you. More of “you” to evaluate, assuming the you that you present is in a good light, is usually a good thing.

Also, for many AdComs, not submitting optional materials looks lazy. If I have applicant A and applicant B on the table, and all things are equal but A submits extra materials and B does not, there is a higher likelihood I am going with A. I like to see the extra hustle, and colleges do, too.

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After You Submit Early College Applications

After You Submit Early College Applications

Add these to your to-do list post-submit!

  • Let your high school counselor know you officially submitted your apps so they get your transcripts and LORs in ASAP.
  • Track your application status. Once your applications have been submitted, you often are provided a “portal” from each school. You need to check this periodically (and be checking your email every day too!). You track the status of your app to ensure schools receive all of your application materials. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a school is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. *Do not expect portals to be updated automatically; give schools some time and do not immediately email if you sent something but it is not reflected in your portal. They don’t like getting emails asking why it is not updated when you just submitted…two days ago.  Expect things to be slow this year as many schools are working in hybrid formats/not everyone is on campus at all schools, etc. 
  • Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (daily) so you do not miss correspondence from schools. This directly applies to the point above!
  • Continue to learn about the schools on your list (and demonstrate interest) by attending online / virtual events. Tracking interest does not stop once your app is submitted. 
  • Keep track of updates that might be relevant to and positively support your application. Schools benefit from knowing about meaningful awards, new test scores, things like that — not every single tiny thing you’ve done since you pressed submit. 
  • And of course…keep working on essays for ED 2 and RD schools.

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How To Approach the Common & Coalition App Coronavirus / COVID-19 Essay

How To Approach the Common & Coalition App Coronavirus / COVID-19 Essay

This year, both applications have added an optional 250-word essay to address the impact COVID-19 has had on you. The prompt for the Common App is as follows (and you can find the Coalition prompt here): 

Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces. Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N

If you check “yes,” you will see: Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.

Of course, everyone has been affected by the pandemic: many students were not able to complete an internship, attend a summer program, or retake the ACT—and of course, almost all students ended up having to attend classes virtually for the spring semester. Colleges know the pandemic has limited options for every student in many ways! If these normal limitations represent the extent of your experience with COVID-19, we encourage you to skip this essay. AdComs will be reading so many of these essays that an unexceptional one will do little to bolster your application.

If you feel you’ve had an exceptional experience, however, read on for examples of some circumstances that might be acceptable to talk about in this essay. Although this list is not exhaustive, it should give you a sense of what AdComs might expect to read in this new space. 

Circumstances that might warrant an essay: 

  • Illness: You were very sick; a close family member was very sick; or, in the worst-case scenario, someone close to you passed away. 
  • Relocation: You were forced to live elsewhere during this time because you lived in an area with a very high infection rate, because a family member fell sick, or to support a family member with a compromised immune system. 
  • Family Circumstances: A family member lost their job or was furloughed and this affected your family’s situation in a profound way (where you lived, access to basic needs, etc.). 
  • Education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces: Any of the above happened, which resulted in a profound impact on your ability to learn during this time; for instance, you were not able to attend school during this time because you needed to work to support your family or you had no, or very limited, access to a computer with reliable internet. 
  • Future plans: If the pandemic prompted you to rethink your plans for college (you now, for example, want to focus your studies on healthcare policy or ed-tech), it would be acceptable to talk about that impact in this essay. 
  • Exceptional Acts of Service: If the pandemic inspired you to perform an extraordinary act (or acts) of service, ones that had a real impact in either your local community or further away (via online tutoring, for example), admissions officers would want to hear about that, too. 

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October Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

October Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors

  • Keep writing! If you started writing when apps opened this summer, you should have quite a few applications completed by this time. Please do not save essay writing (or any part of this process) for the last minute. Submit applications as soon as possible!
  • Talk to your school counselor and letter of recommendation writers and make sure they are aware of your early deadlines.
  • Continue connecting with students, faculty, and staff. Remember to interview where applicable and take lots of notes. The information you gather is often perfect material for supplemental “Why School” essays and interest letters after you apply!
  • If your school hosts a college fair or individual college visits (virtually this year), please attend and meet the reps from the schools on your list. If you have already met them, it is still beneficial to stop by and say hello to demonstrate interest.
  • Prep for interviews. Remember, if the schools on your list have on-campus or local interviews that are candidate-initiated, you must schedule them. Check the schools on your list. All of this information is provided on schools’ admissions websites.
  • Have standardized test scores sent to all of the colleges on your list, if required; please send scores now so they arrive before deadlines. Some schools no longer require you to send officials, so please review each school’s application instructions to confirm. You can also review the list here: https://www.compassprep.com/self-reporting-test-scores/  *there is no penalty if you send them and they are not required at the time you apply. And if you are applying test-optional, this does not apply to you!

Juniors

  • If you look at your resume, are your academic interests clear? If yes, then your academic narrative is developed. A clear-cut academic narrative is beneficial; if you are undecided, then you should be exploring multiple interests. It is okay to be undecided as long as you are actively working on finding your niche. Please keep in mind that colleges aren’t looking for you to have it all 100% figured out; they are more concerned that you have interests and that you act on them (they want to see that you are intellectually curious and act on that curiosity!).
  • Now is the time to plan the rest of junior year in terms of testing. When will you take the ACT or SAT? Should you take SAT Subject Tests? How many and which ones? When might you take them? Have you started formal test prep? Now is the time to start! If you need test prep resources, please reach out. 
  • Although we do not suggest formally prepping for the PSAT, if you would like to get a sense of what is on the test, you can read more here: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/psat-nmsqt-psat-10/practice
  • Meet with your school guidance counselor. S/he will write one of your letters of recommendation for college, and it’s a much more personal letter if you know each other. Talk about your plans for this year and next year; let them know about your preliminary college list, any visits you have scheduled, and your testing plan.
  • Visit the websites of the schools you are interested in, and explore the admissions and academics pages. Start to think about your major(s) of interest and how the activities you are involved in support these interests. If possible, we want to determine what major(s) options you will list on your applications sooner rather than later so you can best prepare yourself for talking about these interests in your apps. If you need suggestions for activities based on your interests (for example, Coursera courses, independent projects, etc.), let us know—we help with this!
  • Fall is a great time to visit colleges (virtually or in-person if you can), so plan some visits. Schools are offering many online opportunities, so take advantage of them now. Whether you can get to campus or not, take virtual tours via CampusReel, too.
  • Do you have a plan in place to get more involved with any of your extracurricular activities? Look for leadership opportunities in school clubs and activities outside of school too. Remember, leadership is far more than leading a school club or sports team. Read more here (What is Leadership)!

Sophomores and Freshmen

  • An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. A rigorous course schedule shows intellectual curiosity, a willingness to challenge yourself, and that you are comfortable with hard work. Your number one priority this year should be your grades!
  • If you haven’t done so already, get involved in activities in your area(s) of interest both inside and outside of school. Seek out opportunities to develop leadership roles. Depth, not breadth of experience, is key. Most colleges prefer to see fewer activities, but in which you are involved in a significant, meaningful way. Evidence of leadership, initiative, commitment, and meaningful engagement is important. Avoid the laundry list resume.
  • Starting your own club, website, or community service project can show initiative, dedication, and leadership. If you are interested in creating an opportunity for yourself that is not available at your school or through a formal program, contact us, because we can help!
  • Many schools allow 10th graders to take a practice PSAT.  The experience of taking the PSAT as a sophomore will give you a sense of what to expect in future exams. However, you don’t need to prep for it.
  • Schedule a meeting to discuss your high school game plan with your guidance counselor. Your guidance or college counselor will write you a letter of recommendation when you apply to college, so make an effort to get to know them and for them to get to know you.

 

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Optional Materials in College Admissions

Optional Materials in College Admissions

If you want to maximize your chances of acceptance, don’t consider any optional components of a college application optional. Here are some common optional components:

  • Essays
  • Interviews
  • Video submissions
  • Portolios (art, maker, etc.)
  • Recommendations (any or extras)

Option to write an optional essay? Write it.

Option to interview? Sign up (then prepare for it…more on that here).

Option to create and send a video introduction, for example, like U Chicago and Bowdoin offer? Do it.

Option to send a portfolio? If you have a talent that fits the portfolio requirements go for it!

Option to send an extra letter of recommendation, or to send one at all if optional (many schools require zero LORs, so if you can submit one as an option….)? Request one and have it sent.

Why submit optional materials? By doing so you are going above and beyond what other applicants will do to demonstrate who they are to admissions. This could be especially important this year as schools go test-optional. It demonstrates a greater commitment to being accepted to the school to which you are applying. And because there is more of “you” for them to evaluate, you typically increase your odds of winning over the admissions committee.

Also, for many AdComs, not submitting optional materials looks lazy. If I have applicant A and applicant B on the table, and all things are equal but A submits extra materials and B does not, there is a higher likelihood I am going with A if those materials help me get to know them better. I like to see the extra hustle, and colleges do, too.

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New Schools Added to the Common App!

New Schools Added to the Common App!

So many schools are now on the Common App for the 2020-2021 application year! We love knowing students will have fewer apps to fill out. You can find the full list of new members here — some popular new adds include:

Loyola U., Chicago
Auburn
Clemson
Coastal Carolina
U. Georgia
U. of Louisville
U. of South Florida

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Common Application Offline for Refresh: July 28-31

Common Application Offline for Refresh: July 28-31

Rising Seniors Take Note:

This year, the 2019-2020 Common App for first-year applicants will be offline from July 28-31, 2020 in preparation for the launch of the 2020-2021 application on August 1. 

You will not be able to access the app at this time. We suggest logging back in on August 1 and rolling over your account. 

Questions? Email us!

 

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From The Mouths of College Admission Deans

From The Mouths of College Admission Deans

Brendan Barnard wrote a three-part series where he asked admission leaders to focus on what they wanted students and families to know about applying to college next year. The common theme in their responses was, “WE GET IT!” They know that there has been major disruption and that everyone is learning virtually. They know that sports competitions, musical productions, and internships have been canceled. They are aware that many students will not take standardized tests and that grading policies in high schools are in flux. 

A few important insights/quotes for students and parents to take note of:

On transcripts/grading…

Jim Bock, vice president and dean of admissions at Swarthmore College agrees, saying, “there will be a big asterisk on spring 2020 transcripts for all students and colleges and universities are aware and understanding of that fact.” He adds, “we will work with college counselors to understand and accept the choices individual schools and districts make during these challenging times.

On activities/summer…

Often, students and parents mistakenly believe that they need to build a long list of activities and involvement in the name of admission to college. “More, more, more” is their mantra as they try to do—and be—everything to stand out in the application process. In some communities, daily schedules for high school students become unsustainable, as families rush from one commitment to another—usually leading to sleep-deprived, burnt-out young people (and parents). In other communities, students are working long hours at a job or caring for a younger sibling, and therefore worry that their college application will lack what they perceive as “traditional” extracurricular involvement. This resume building approach to admission is flawed and the current crisis has forced us all to slow down and look critically at what we do. Juan Espinoza, associate vice provost and director of admissions at Virginia Tech, says, “We recognize that organized extracurricular activities will be impossible, but we are impressed, by how students are finding ways to give back to their communities.”

Jim Bock, vice president and dean of admissions at Swarthmore College tells students, “many of you may have a little more time on your hands these days. Rest. Read. Reassess. Ask yourself, ‘Why do I pursue this activity or that program?’” He adds, “many students believe we count activities and that more is better. What we seek is commitment to a few activities, though there is no formula for a successful application.” He advises, “pursue what you want, and find the college that matches, and you will be much more satisfied in the end. You may also have less choice as you care for siblings and families, and there may not be the ability to work. We value all commitments.” Bock encourages students to “think about what has motivated you to do what you do? Would you do it all the same? Why are you doing it? When things return to the new normal (whenever that happens) how do you envision engaging with and impacting your family, your faith community, your school, or your larger community?” He says, “regardless, take care of yourself first and take it slow. There is time for reflection.” 

Some students had grand plans for the summer. Maybe they had been looking forward to being a camp counselor or participating in an internship. Perhaps they were eager to volunteer or work a steady job. Research, travel, spending time with a relative—many summer experiences have been, or likely will be, closed down by the pandemic. Applicants fear that dashed plans will ruin their college dreams. Heath Einstein, dean of admission at Texas Christian University suggests looking at it in a different way. He says, “summer presents an opportunity to be productive even if in different ways. For example, a student might not be able to secure a coveted internship, but they could still plant a garden in their yard or design a smartphone app or read books by authors from marginalized communities.” 

Mary Wagner, assistant vice president for enrollment management at the University of South Carolina explains that “thirst for learning and knowledge is always valuable and appreciated by the admissions committee.” She tells students that given that they are operating in a non-traditional classroom this spring, “consider other opportunities to pursue learning beyond the classroom over the summer,” adding, “you’re probably already doing something that could be considered an internship or research project of sorts. Perhaps you’ve taken on new responsibilities in your home or family. Is there a new skill that you are trying to learn online? Are you working toward a finished project or artifact that can show off what you’ve learned? These can be applied, creative, or reflective in nature. We find that students are pretty imaginative on this front and are self-taught in many areas.” 

Swarthmore’s Bock also points out that, “self-care is critical, and if you are unable to care for yourself, it will be difficult to care for others.” He encourages students to give themselves permission to prioritize their own health in the same way one might put their own oxygen mask on first during an emergency in flight. He says, “finding a way to give back to your team, club, faith community, family will come with time. Taking care of yourself in this crisis is a way to help others. It will take time, but there will be ways for you to share and care for others beyond your computer screen and devices.” 

On essays…

Temple’s Abbott, says, “I would advise to resist against writing about something that has consumed all of us around the world. Know in advance that colleges will fully recognize the impact of what COVID-19 had on your high school experience. Don’t let this one public health crisis (as dramatic as it was!) define you.” 

Source (three linked here). 

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