“New and Improved” Common Application prompts for 2017-2018 just released

Calling all juniors, high school class of 2018 and college graduates of 2022 – the college admissions process has officially begun. The Common Application, accepted by nearly 700 colleges across the country just released its 2017-2018 essay prompts.

What are the big changes?

Two new essay prompts have been added and there has been some minor tweaking of the old prompts. Juniors will need to pick one of the following prompts to write about for next year’s applications (revisions are in italics). You’ll see more about about the revisions further down.

2017-2018 Common Application 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. [No change]

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? [Revised]

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? [Revised]

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. [No change]

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

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? [New]

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. [New]

The best news for students is that there are two additional prompts (# 6 and # 7) and #7 is topic of choice, which means that the student can submit an existing essay or an essay that they are using for another college that does not accept the Common Application. The recommended essay length remains at 500 words but all essays between 250 – 650 words will be accepted. Most students find that they are able to tell a substantive story about themselves within the 650 word limit.

Tips for juniors

Get comfortable with the prompts. Think about what you want admissions officers to know about you. Analyze each of the prompts to determine which one(s) allow you to strut your stuff and share your most insightful thoughts about you and your personal experiences.

Why the changes?

Common Application surveyed over 5,000 individuals including admissions officers at colleges, students, teachers, parents and high school guidance counselors for feedback on last year’s essay prompts.

The changes on Prompt # 2 – what used to be referred to as the “Failure prompt” are interesting. Many students I’ve worked with have been uncomfortable sharing a failure. Their thinking after all, is that they are trying to impress an admissions office and, “why would I want to talk about when I failed?” The old prompt was as follows:

  • 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?

Common App retooled the language and the new prompt # 2 is a little gentler:

  1. The lessons we take from obstacles we encountercan 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?

Best Tip: Start thinking before you start writing.


Schools in the Carolinas that accept the Common Application:

North Carolina

  1. Davidson College
  2. Duke University
  3. Guilford College
  4. High Point University
  5. Johnson & Wales University – Charlotte
  6. Meredith College
  7. North Carolina State University
  8. Queens University of Charlotte
  9. Salem College
  10. St. Andrews University
  11. University of North Carolina at Asheville
  12. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  13. University of North Carolina at Wilmington
  14. Wake Forest University
  15. Warren Wilson College

South Carolina

  1. Columbia College
  2. Converse College
  3. Furman University
  4. Newberry College
  5. Presbyterian College
  6. Wofford College

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to: lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.com; www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com