best college essay writing tips

The Common Application Essay Prompts for 2018-2019

How can a college select one student over another if they have identical academic records at similar schools and equally impressive test scores? If this was the only information available for consideration the answer would be… flip a coin! This is why the background, talents, and interests of students often become tiebreakers. Perhaps the best way to reveal your singular ability to contribute to an institution, the reasons why you’re a worthy addition to its diverse mix of students, is through a compelling personal statement. If your message forms a gut-level connection with the human being on the other end of your application — the admissions officer — you’ll have a huge advantage over your competitors.

For most of you, the medium through which you’ll apply to colleges is the Common Application. The Common App was initiated in 1975 to help reduce the number of separate applications that students needed to complete in order to apply to multiple schools. The Common Application, a not-for-profit organization based in Arlington, VA, administers the App. Each year, more than 1 million students use the Common App to submit over 4 million college applications.

The Common App has indeed been successful in streamlining the effort to apply to multiple schools. So successful, in fact, that the widespread use of the App has produced a substantial increase in the number of applications submitted to member colleges. The incremental application volume has allowed elite colleges to become even more selective. This has had the effect of greatly intensifying the competition for admission and reducing the rate of admission among applicants with qualifications that are well above average.

A key element of the Common App is the personal statement, or essay, that students submit in response to one of several prompts, which are subject to change from year to year. In February of this year, the Common App organization announced that the 2018-2019 essay prompts would remain unchanged from 2017-2018.

Before listing the essay prompts for the Class of 2023, let’s review the most important part of the App’s essay section; the instructions.

“What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response.”

Especially in view of prompt #7, which was added last year, the App allows you to write about anything you want. Rather than act as a set of constraints, the prompts serve more as a guide to the development of an essay that will introduce you as a person to admissions officials.

Your essay provides a sample of your writing ability, which is a factor in admissions, but this is a secondary purpose. The key purpose is revealed in a question in the instructions that asks, “What do you want the readers of your application to know about you”. Take this question seriously. It’s not a casual suggestion. What you write is up to you, but be sure that you’re writing about yourself — what you love, where you’re from, what you hope to achieve, your life experiences, who or what is important to you and why, or a similar theme.

It’s likely that the story you’ll tell in your essay isn’t formed in your mind yet. The prompts were released early not so you could start writing immediately, but to begin your thought process. You should be considering ideas that will enable you to reveal yourself within a suitable story framework. You have plenty of time to identify characteristics and experiences that will allow you to be fully responsive to one of the prompts.

Below are the 2018-2019Common 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, or 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.

Many schools, especially among the more highly selective institutions, require that applicants submit supplemental essays in response to their own set of prompts. These essays, together with the Common App essay, often represent the critical difference between the acceptance and rejection of an applicant.

As a college admissions consulting firm specializing in elite institutions, IvySelect is proficient in guiding high-ability students to craft essays that improve competitiveness in admissions. IvySelect helps you brainstorm a range of essay ideas.We employ a multi-stage essay development methodology that elevates the quality of your writing. And we make sure that the core message of your essay is integrated into all other components of your admissions campaign.