The current selections remain the same for next fall’s applicants.


The Common Application has released its 2019-2020 essay prompts for students who will be applying to college next fall. These applicants will have the same seven topics to choose from as students from the current admissions season.

The seventh option allows a student to write about a topic of their choice, helpful for teens who write their essay as part of a class assignment that isn’t focused on a specific prompt.

As an application essay coach, I know the keys to a good college admissions essay  (also called the personal statement):

  • Share something about yourself that’s not included anywhere else on the application. For example, instead of writing about the prestigious awards you’ve already listed in another section, discuss an experience that led up to earning one of the awards and show how that helped you grow as a person (Prompt 5).
  • Create at least a basic outline to know whether you have enough information to answer the prompt and to keep you on topic.
  • Write as if you’re having a conversation with someone rather than to demonstrate your extensive vocabulary. Admissions officers want to hear your voice. Let that voice be active, not passive.
  • Stay on topic and make sure to thoroughly address the prompt. I’ve read essays that start off with one or two engaging paragraphs that make me laugh or curious to learn more, but then continue with unrelated information or wrap up too quickly.
  • Revise, revise and revise. A first draft is rarely good enough to submit as is. The essay is an important piece of the application package and requires work to make it the best it can be.

I recommend students write their essay over the summer when they have time to focus on it. Once senior year is in session, classes, extra-curricular activities and the rest of the application process will keep them too busy.

Here are the 2019-2020 Common Application 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.
  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.

If you have questions about the Common App essay prompts, please ask them in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer.