How to Answer 5 of the Most Common College Application Questions

common-college-application-questionsAsk prospective students what the most stressful part of the college application process is, and likely they’ll answer with the following: writing the essay. And as hundreds of thousands of high-school seniors begin to polish their college applications, they will struggle with just that. So why does the essay trigger so much pressure? It’s simple: The college essay is the first opportunity to showcase an applicant’s personality to the admissions committee.

And while the essay is a paramount part of your application, it’s important to stay confident and start drafting different approaches to common essay prompts. To get you started, here are five of the essay prompts from the Common Application.

5 college application essay questions used on the Common App…

The 2016–2017 Common Application essay prompts are listed below. While not every college or university requires you to use the Common App, this will give you a general idea of what schools are looking for in the application essay.

  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 failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  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 or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

…And How to Answer Them

For these particular essay questions, you may have to touch on subjects that you never thought of sharing with anyone—especially the college you’re applying to. But the truth is, reflecting on a failure and how you have overcome it demonstrates personal strength—among other skills—to admissions committees. In another example, if you can identify an event where you have made a noteworthy turning point in your life, admission officers want to hear about that. Whether it was a time where you took initiative in the classroom or in the community, your answer to these questions can reveal academic or intellectual strengths that colleges are looking for in applicants.

Please note that regardless of the prompt you choose, the length has already been predetermined at 650 words maximum. Be sure to abide by this guideline when you’re writing your essay. For a full list of writing guidelines, visit the Common Application website.

How to Craft a College Essay That Stands Out

While there are many elements of the college application, the admissions essay is your opportunity to humanize your application and let your personality come alive. Embrace it! In order to ensure that you have truly gone above and beyond, leave yourself enough time to brainstorm, write, revisit and, of course, edit your essay.

If possible, demonstrate knowledge and passion for the college you’re applying to. For example, if one of these schools promotes sustainability initiatives every year—and that’s something you’re passionate about as well—illustrate that in the essay. Colleges and universities of all sizes want to send acceptance letters to prospective students who can contribute to and grow the campus community. So if you share similar values, you may have an advantage when it comes time to craft your essay.

Finally, be confident. “It’s important to write as though you deserve gaining acceptance,” says Jeannie Borin, a college admissions consultant and contributor at The Huffington Post. Regardless of the topic you choose, if you demonstrate confidence in your writing and knowledge for the college and program, you’re bound to impress the admissions officer who has the pleasure of reviewing your application. Good luck!