The changes are small, but benefit your college applicant.

The Common Application recently released its 2017-2018 essay prompts for high school students applying to college in the fall of 2017. As a college essay coach, I welcome the minor adjustments to last year’s prompts and the addition of two more. The Common App has made it easier for applicants to find a way to tell their story, which is the goal of the college admissions essay, after all.

If this is your first time through the college admissions process, here’s a very short primer about “the essay.” All colleges, whether or not they use the Common Application (700 do), require a student to write an essay as part of the application, creating an opportunity for your teen to share more about herself than her grades, class rank, SAT/ACT scores, and a list of extra curricular activities, information she’s already included elsewhere on her application. You can read more about the essay in my previous posts, The 411 on the College Essay, How to Help Your Child Tackle the College Essay and Lessons from a College Essay Coach.

IMG_0012.JPGWith the latest set of Common App essay topics, three of the five original prompts received slight makeovers, allowing for a broader interpretation and enabling more students to take advantage of them.

The sixth prompt seeks to find out what engages applicants, what they want to spend their time learning about—an interesting opportunity for thinkers and dreamers and those who like to ponder the possibilities.

Number seven marks the return of the “topic of your choice” and I cannot be more grateful. I’ve worked with many seniors who’ve written their essay but can’t figure out where it fits among the prompts. Part of my job is to help them determine that and edit accordingly, but this addition offers them the freedom to think outside the box and really shine.

The free topic also works for a student who’s written an essay for a class and believes it expresses who he is better than anything he could compose responding to a specific prompt. It will help teens given an assignment to write a draft of their admissions essay by their junior year English teacher without the prompts (in my experience, this happens often). In the case of seniors applying to colleges that don’t use the Common App and have a specific prompt for their essay, that piece can then be used for prompt seven.

In a post for HuffPost, Scott Anderson, Senior Director for Access and Education at The Common Application, writes about the essay prompt changes, explaining why they were made and how they will impact your student.


As he points out, this isn’t the time for juniors to write their essays, but to begin thinking about what they might like to write about. I suggest you encourage your teen to make notes of experiences, become more aware of what grabs her interest, consider what she cares about and maybe even do a little self-reflection.


The 2017-2018 Common Application Essay Prompts are below, with notations from the Common App on which prompts were revised, added or remained the same. To see the changes, check out the Common Application 2016-2017 Essay Prompts.

  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. [No change]
  1. 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? [Revised]
  1. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? [Revised]
  1. 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. [No change]
  1. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. [Revised]
  1. 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? [New]
  1. 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. [New]

Share your thoughts on the new Common App essay prompts in the comments section below.