Common Application Questions and Advice 2016/2017

The Common Application has announced that the 2016-2017 personal statement essay prompts will be the same as the 2015-2016 prompts. With these questions in hand, high school juniors can now start working on their essays.  You only need to write about one of the five questions.  Which will you select?  What are you going to talk about? The essay maximum length has not yet been released, but it will likely be about 650 words. Here is some EC (Essay Coaching) advice for each of the five questions you can choose from.

The common app essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores?

Read more here:  [Six Steps to Start Writing Your College Application Essay Today]

The Five Common Application Essay Questions (choose one)

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.

EC Writing advice: Stay away from talking about major problems (divorce, disease, death, relocation) unless you are explaining a transcript issue and/or you can share positive details of how you thrived through this problem and continue to thrive. This is a good way to share your passion. What do you care about, why, what have you done about it? How does your passion affect your plans for the future?


2.  The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

EC Writing advice: Did you decide to do something that was difficult for you, or did you simply find yourself faced with a challenge? Describe the challenge, describe your “failure”—exactly what happened. Three quarters of the essay should be about how it affected you and lessons learned.

3.  Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

EC Writing advice: Describe the experience in detail.  Where were you? What was said or done? Be detailed about what prompted you—what in your past had you read or seen or heard to give you your belief?  What have you learned since then to help you decide to whether or not you would make the same decision again? Remember to be respectful of friends, family, adults—saying “I helped because my coach had no idea what he was doing” weakens an essay.


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.

EC Writing advice: Pick a problem that you feel is or was important to you to solve.  The type of problem you pick will tell the reader something about what you care about.  For example, people who love to read might want to talk about figuring out their favorite mystery, a programmer might talk about a coding dilemma.  Avoid talking about problems that might cause someone to be concerned about your ability to handle college, such as your struggles with an addiction or your own physical or mental health.  When you talk about the steps to identify a solution, include others who helped you and describe how they helped. Include what you did as well as what you thought or felt as you solved the problem.


5.  Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

EC Writing advice: Why was it meaningful? What happened during the experience? How did it change you? Use sensory detail, dialogue. Do you have a special person in your life who has changed you?  How? What have you done as a result of knowing him/her that you might not have?

[Need more assistance with selecting the best common application question for you and writing your college application essay?  Would you like to work with an award-winning writer who helps businesses, authors and students tell their story in a compelling, meaningful way?  Write Debbie ]

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