Your high school junior can review them now.

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Photo by bruce mars on

Encouraging a high school junior to look at the Common App essay prompts in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic may appear unreasonable and even insensitive. But as I wrote in an earlier post, your teen’s experience will likely be the topic they and many others will write about in their college application essay, also known as the personal statement or college admissions essay. By reviewing the prompts now, your teen can begin framing the way they view the impact of COVID-19 on their life.

High school juniors usually embark on their college planning process in the spring. This year, most are finding their approach has to change because of new obstacles put in their path. Colleges know all high school juniors are affected and will be making adjustments accordingly, including anticipating many students writing about the coronavirus in some way.

Your teen doesn’t have to begin writing immediately, but they can take the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the prompts they’ll be using when they’re ready to start.

The Common App essay prompts for 2020-2021 are the same as last year. As a college essay coach, I think these prompts still allow every student to find one that works for them. The goal of the essay is to tell a college something about you that they can’t find anywhere else on the application. Usually the application essay shows some level of personal growth and the way in which you think, live and/or view the world. It’s a chance to share who you are.

The 2020-2021 Common App 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.