2020 Common App Essay Prompts

Plus Common App Essay FAQs

The Common App gives you seven prompts to choose from. You answer one of these questions:

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.

What is the Common App Essay Word Limit?

The Common App essay limit is 650 words.

What are Colleges Looking For in a Common App Essay?

Colleges look for three main things in a Common App essay:
 

  • Can you write?

  • Who are you? – what’s your personality like, what are some of your best qualities, what matters to you, and why?

  • Will you contribute positively to our campus community?


How Important is the Common App Essay?

The Common App essay is an important part of your application. This is your chance to tell the schools something you’d like them to know about you apart from your test scores and grades.

 

It gives them a chance to meet you on the page.

The Common App essay helps differentiate your application from other students’ applications. No one thinks like you or sees the world the way you do — so tell them.

You can tell schools something they don’t already know or dive deeper into what they already do — like your skills, passions, hobbies, goals, interests, problem-solving ability, positive qualities, and values.

By the end, the essay should say good things about you and help the colleges envision you as a positive addition to their campus communities.

Is One Common App Prompt Better to Answer Than Another?

No. They’re all meant to inspire you to find the story you want to tell. It doesn’t matter which question you choose.

Does My Common App Essay Need a Title?

The Common App essay doesn’t require a title, but it’s okay to include one. (I'd say my students are about 50/50.) Titles count as part of the 650 words.

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