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Personal Essay Topics in the CommonApp

Nearly 500 U.S. colleges and universities are now accepting applications submitted through the Common Application form at www.commonapp.com. That means you will only write one admission essay for multiple schools!
By GPA Admin

Personal Essay Topics in the CommonApp







Starting the summer of 2013, applicants using the Common Application have five new essay prompts to choose from, with the maximum length of 650 words. These new essay topics include:

  • 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.

As of August 1st 2013, technology allows the Common Application to enforce word limits. In the old system, applicants upload their essays as separate documents, and so they are free to submit 800 or 1,000 words, which plenty do. The new platform requires students to enter their responses into a window. At the 650-word limit, they are unable to type any more. (The system also does not accept an essay of fewer than 250 words).

In the old system, applicants using Common Application were asked to submit an essay of 250 to 500 words on one of the following topics:

  • Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
  • Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.
  • Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence. 
  • Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence. 
  • A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.
  • Topic of your choice.

Note that some schools may have additional essay question(s) listed in the Supplements, so be sure to check the Common App to see if the schools you are applying have any other essay questions on their form. 


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