Common Application releases this year’s prompts

The big news is that Common App removed one prompt question, about about a problem you’d like to solve, and replaced it with the following:

“Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you.” 

Living through the pandemic inspired Common App to tackle a question that focuses on gratitude and kindness. We’ve all endured and encountered new and different experiences and this prompt is a great way to think critically about your own personal growth. Common App President & CEO Jenny Rickard shared “Particularly at this challenging time, we can help students think about something positive and heartfelt in their lives,” she explains. “And we can do it explicitly.”

Common App conducted research with educators who have a deep understanding of these values and mission of the Common App essay prompts and they believe the new prompt will generate stories that students are inspired to write and that colleges are excited to read.

Here are all seven of the Common Application essay prompts for 2021-2022.

  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.
  1. 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?
  1. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  1. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  1. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  2. 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?
  1. 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.

In addition to a change of one of the main Common App essay prompts, there are a variety of new questions that aim to make the application more inclusive. There will now be:

  • a new question that provides applicants with the option to share their preferred first name.
  • a new question where students are given the option of selecting (or multi-selecting) a pronoun set.
  • a change to the presentation of a question from “sex” to “legal sex” aimed at reducing confusion for students who identify differently.
  • no question related to high school disciplinary records, because it was found to frequently be racially biased.
  • no question about the discharge status of veterans.

All these changes were designed to reduce any sense of exclusion in the application process. Jenny Rickard, CEO of the Common App, said that the association told its members that “”we would not be neutral” and would look for ways to reach out to a range of populations that have not always felt welcome.” She also shared that “We’re hoping that students who may not identify as male or female will be able to see that that’s fine.” Common App member schools who disagree with these questions they don’t need to use the information in their application process.

The Covid-19 question used last year will remain in the Additional Information section. This is where students can explain how the pandemic has impacted them directly.