One of the most frequent questions I receive from students is: “What Common Application essay prompt should I answer?”

The Common Application is a single application that is supported by almost 900 higher education institutions. While it makes the application process simpler, it also means that this essay is very important, since it will be received by almost every Common App school that you send an application to. (Note that a few universities that use the Common Application actually do not require this essay to be completed, but that is the exception, not the rule!)

Picking one of the seven different essay prompts can be daunting. How do you distinguish yourself from all of the other applicants? What are the universities really looking for?

The essay response – no matter the question you’re answering – is the main tool for a university to get to know you beyond a list of activities, achievements and numbers. Admissions officers want to know what has shaped you as a person. The essay is your chance to share your values and characteristics that they will not learn about from the rest of your application. Think of your essay as a chance to sit down with an admissions officer to share more about your identity and what motivates you, or how you spend your time, or what you’ve accomplished. Think critically about who you are and what positive attributes you want colleges to know about you.

In short, there really is no best prompt to answer. Instead, you want to choose the essay prompt that is best for you to answer. After you have determined what you want to share about yourself, review the essay prompts. Is there a prompt that will be easier to answer to share what you’ve selected? Is there one you want to write about the most? Is there one that clearly speaks to you? If so, you’ve found the best prompt for you!

To see the essay prompts, visit the Common Application.

About the author

Emily received a BA from Middlebury College and an M.S.Ed. in higher education from University of Pennsylvania. Emily has more than six years of admissions and advising experience at several institutions, including Swarthmore College, Temple University and Penn, where she evaluated applicants for the Wharton School. Emily manages a caseload of clients as well as a team of AcceptU counselors. Emily is an IECA Associate Member.

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