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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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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May Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors:

Congrats on deciding where you will be attending college if that is the path you are taking!

As graduation nears and high school comes to a close…enjoy yourself! Graduation signifies exciting new beginnings, but also change. Many of the people you are used to seeing every day at your high school are people you might not see often (or again in some cases), so make the most of spending time with these people (and your family!) the next few months.

Juniors:

Keeping it light this month during APs!

-As you wrap up testing, you should begin to think more about your list and application strategy. If you still have schools you want to visit, look ahead to the end of August and early fall to get the most out of campus visits. If you have to go during the summer months, read this post.

-Decide on your courses for next year, keep working on your resume/activity sheet, and firm up all summer plans.

-It is a busy time, but try to consider this process like a class from here on out. You’ll need to carve out time for it every week.

-Looking ahead…it is time for essays! Now would be a good time to start your personal statement. You can review the Common App prompts here and the Coalition prompts here. Start brainstorming.

Freshmen/Sophomores:

See a few additional notes below for “enrichment” activities.

-Focus on your grades. Your transcript is the most important part of your college application. If you have room for improvement, colleges want to see you improve! If you are struggling in any subject, do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help. 

-Continue working on your resume/activity sheet.
-Firm up your summer plans; make the most of summer! If you know you’ll have some free time on your hands…
-Looking for community engagement or volunteer opportunities? Something meaningful to get involved in that you might want to continue throughout high school, someplace where you might make a real difference? Ask upperclassmen how they spend their summers or check out https://www.idealist.org for opportunities near you.
-I am also a big fan of podcasts as learning tools and entertainment! Here are a few I recommend:

A great umbrella site, How Stuff Works includes BrainStuff (science), Stuff You Missed in History Class, Stuff of Genius (inventions), TechStuff and others. The approach here is like Radiolab, but more specialized by individual topic. You should be able to find a broadcast on just about any area of interest.

TED Talks podcasts. These cover a wide array of subjects and perspectives; this is a “something for everyone” site and the angle tends toward a combination of informative and inspirational.

If you’re looking for some more straight-up academic enrichment, you could check out Math Mutation, which takes an entertaining approach to its subject.

 

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Newly Added Common Application and Coalition Application Schools (2018-2019 School Year)

UT Austin will now accept the Coalition Application. First-time freshman applicants are still required to submit the three short answer essays in addition to one longer essay from either Apply Texas Essay A or the Coalition Application options.

A few other popular Coalition App schools include University of Washington and University of Maryland, both who exclusively use the Coalition App (and not the Common App).

The Common App also announced a few new additions for 2018, two of which are very popular with the students I work with: Penn State University and University of Pittsburgh.

Also added were University of Iowa, University of Utah, and Michigan State among others. You can read the full (current) list here.

 

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11TH GRADE: TIME TO START THE COLLEGE SEARCH AND APPLICATION PROCESS


By 10th and 11th-grade college talk should be consistent—especially if you are, or have a student who is—aiming to attend a selective college or university. That said, we start the majority of our work with students, which includes applying to summer programs, narrative development (your “story” for college), developing your college list, and completing the personal statement and resume, in 11th grade. There is no better time to start the process than right now!

Juniors should consider the following:

  • It is test prep time! If you have not started yet, start now.
  • Meet with your school counselor. S/he will write one of your letters of recommendation for college, and the letter will be much more personal 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.
  • Now is the time to build your story for college! Have you gotten more involved with any of your extracurricular activities, especially those that relate to your academic interests? Look for leadership opportunities in school and consider activities outside of school as well. Think about ideas for new and different activities, or for how to get more involved in your favorite activity (academic and non-academic).
  • Visit the websites of the schools you are interested in. Explore the admissions and academics pages. Start to think about your major of interest and how the activities you are involved in support this interest; you should be exploring your interests outside of the classroom/school!
  • Visit colleges in person! Spring is a great time to visit colleges. Talk to students, faculty, and staff, and take notes about classes, clubs, etc. you might want to include in your essays.

Email us or fill out the contact form to schedule a consult and find out how we can support you in your college planning and application process!

 

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New Common Application Guidance on Essays/Writing Requirements

News from the Common App:

The Common App is providing a brand new feature! In response to feedback from the counseling community, The Common App created a resource to help applicants and those who support them better understand the writing requirements of our more than 700 member colleges.

The Writing Requirements resource is incorporated into our already popular “Members Live” FAQ, which we continually update as colleges publish their specific institutional questions. Clicking the “Writing Requirements” link for a college will take you to a designated page for that college where you will find the following information for both their First-Year and Transfer applications:

* All required and optional long-answer questions

* All required and optional questions that request a document upload

* The location of these questions (College-Specific Questions or Writing Supplement)

* Minimum and maximum word counts for each question

The listing does not include conditionally required writing questions, such as those triggered by an applicant’s choice of academic program. For that reason, the “My Colleges” tab of the Common App account remains the definitive record of each institution’s requirements. We will update each college’s unique FAQ on a weekly basis to reflect any changes within the “My Colleges” section.

We developed this tool to better support counselors seeking to learn more about writing requirements across our member colleges, as well as students working to budget their application planning time. And to those colleagues who have encouraged the creation of this enhancement, thank you for helping us improve how we serve you and your students.

Tutorial: Completing the Family Section of the Common Application

 

This is the second video by Brittany Maschal Consulting in a series of tutorials on the Common Application! In it, I walk watchers through filling out the Family section of the Common Application. If you have specific questions, feel free to shoot me an email or reach out via the link at the end of the video. I also suggest joining our new Facebook group, Conquer the Common Application. We hope this group becomes a place where students, parents, and counselors can ask questions, share advice, and ultimately, get filling out the Common App right. Not everyone’s Family section will look the same, but it can be nice to see a sample. If you join the group, you can also access a PDF of a fully completed Family section.

Please share this post with students or that helps students fill out the Common Application. Enjoy!

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Focused College Applicants Beat Well-rounded College Applicants Any Day

Being well-rounded is nice generally, but colleges are looking for students with something unique, a specific talent, skill, or interest to add to their next class. Students who drill down on their interests early on in high school will be better positioned to tell a clear, focused story in their college applications. By doing so, you hand the reader of your file exactly what they are looking for—you make it easy to see your value add.

You may love all five clubs you are in and the three sports you play, but how much can you meaningfully contribute to all eight activities? Suggestion: try to narrow down your interests and corresponding activities by the end of 10th grade, and think about how you can engage more meaningfully and at a higher level in the one or two things you love the most. It’s a bonus if these activities relate to your potential college major, or support it in some way!

Drilling down on your interests to develop a clear story or narrative for your college apps will go a long way in the admissions process, and is one of the focus areas of our college counseling work with high school students!

Remember, colleges seek to build a well-rounded class comprised of students with unique talents and skills, not a class full of generalists.

What’s Worse Than Waiting to Hear From Colleges?

….getting asked about it!

Later this month and throughout April, colleges and universities will notify students about their regular decision applications. Students will either be admitted, denied, or placed on the dreaded waitlist (although we have helped quite a few student get off the WL and into their dream school, ask us how!). Needless to say, it is a stressful time for all seniors who did not commit to a school after the release of early round results.

As we approach decision dates, consider giving this post (with video) from the Wall Street Journal a read!