Common Application – Part II & the new Covid-19 Question

Last week I shared the first three of the seven Common Application prompts and some small tips on how to approach each essay. Today, I’ll wrap up with the remaining four prompts and introduce the brand new optional Covid-Essay.

Here you go:


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. 

  • Tip: Have you conducted STEM research? Spent hours tracing your family history in a local archive? This prompt is an excellent way to showcase your research experience. This is an especially good prompt for a student who has conducted research or been involved in a big project outside of  school assignments.

5.  Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

  • Tip: This prompt encourages self-discovery. Be careful to avoid cliché ideas here. This is not the time to talk about your NOLS trip or varsity soccer championship game. Instead, consider choosing a specific accomplishment or event that will help an admissions committee understand the important relationships in your life as well as your values.

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?

  • Tip: This is a good prompt for students who want to share a specific passion – music, equestrian, reading, or even an eccentric hobby. Talking about a hobby, students can demonstrate their personality, their values and even their vulnerabilities. It’s also an excellent prompt for students who have engaged with research or learning beyond their regular coursework. This prompt allows you to showcase any academic enrichment that doesn’t appear elsewhere in your application.

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. 

  • Tip: This prompt offers the most flexibility, which can work to your advantage if you have an essay that doesn’t neatly answer one of the prompts above. It’s exciting for students who are good at creative writing to take advantage of this prompt. The overwhelming array of possibilities, however, can also create writing paralysis. If you think you might struggle with too much freedom, perhaps this isn’t the best prompt for you!

The new COVID-19 question will read as follows:

Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces (250 word limit)

  • Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N
  • Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.

This 250-word essay is completely optional, and applicants won’t be penalized if they choose not to respond.

Students may wish to discuss shifting family obligations, education disruptions, ways they have helped others, or how they have used their time at home to pursue new interests.

This question will not replace the preexisting Additional Information essay, which has a 650-word limit. You should know that within the Common Application recommendation system, there will also be a place for the school counselor to discuss how the pandemic has affected your school specifically.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;