Common Application's New Essay Prompts
February 5, 2013

The Common Application has released its new essay prompts -- which have been the subject of some concern because of the elimination of a "free choice" essay topic and the announcement that the length limit would be strictly enforced. The new essay prompts do stress that the length limit will be strictly enforced, but the stated limit is now 650 words, not the earlier pledge of 500 words.

Scott Anderson, director of outreach for the Common Application, said that the change to 650 words was based on "feedback from counselors."

While the prompts do not include the completely open option, the first one is quite broad and would appear to give students wide leeway to write about topics of their choice. The new prompts are:

  • "Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story."
  • "Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?"
  • "Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?"
  • "Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?"
  • "Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family."


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