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New college application essay prompts

The new common application CA4 was launched in August 2013. One of the most significant changes to the new Common App is the section on essay. During the last decade or so, students used to be given six essay prompts. These prompts are no longer available. What’s more, they have also removed the ‘Topic of Your Choice’ option.

The length of the essay has been increased from 500 words to 650 words. Students now have to choose from five options. Three of them are explained below.

The new essay prompts are expected to encourage introspection and reflection. It is now important that your essay includes some self-analysis. If it doesn’t, it will be regarded as a failure to address the prompt fully.

Below are some of the five options with some general tips for each:

Option 1:

‘Some students may have a background that is so central to their identity that their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.’

How to approach this prompt?

As you can see, the heart of this prompt is ‘identity’ – the thing that makes you ‘you’. Here the ‘background’ could be just about anything that shaped your character and contributed to your development. So, for example, if you were raised in a military family, that background will definitely have had a major influence in your life. You can approach this prompt in several ways. Just make sure that you are looking inward and explain how that background influenced your identity.

Option 2:

‘Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did this experience affect you? What lessons did you learn?’

How to approach this prompt?

Of course, celebrating your successes and achievements is a whole lot easier. Most students are not comfortable talking about their failures. On the bright side, this prompt does provide an opportunity to impress the admissions officer. You just need to show them your ability to learn from your mistakes or failures. So, don’t forget to devote a great deal of your essay to the second part – what was your reaction to the failure, and what did you learn from this experience? You will need some introspection to answer this prompt. And most importantly, be honest. Don’t write about imaginary failures.