How to Tackle the Common App Essay Prompts

The Common App essay is the best way for admissions committees to get to know you. While grades, test scores, and course load provide a quantitative picture of you as a student, the Common App essay offers colleges a refreshing glimpse into your identity and personality. Learn how to approach the Common App essays and importantly, how to tackle the common app essay prompts (#1 through #7).

How to Tackle the Common App Essay Prompts

By Pavan Somwanshi

College Admissions

The college admission process at first feels intimidating, even scary to some. Ever-growing complexities and intense procedures can explain why feelings like these share commonplace among students. Of the many procedures, one procedure that you probably have heard of is Common Application, popularly known as Common App.

Let me make an attempt to explain what it is and why it is important.

About Common App

Common App is a single college admission application for undergrad students. This application is shared by more than 900 colleges, including the Ivy League schools.

As much as quantitative metrics like grades, test scores, and extracurriculars matter, today, schools prefer a more holistic approach to getting a student admitted.

Universities are equally if not more interested in who you are as a person than who you appear to be on paper. This means, you will not only need to have a good personality but be good at being able to put it across. This is where Common App comes to be of your service.

How to Tackle the Common App Essay Prompts
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Quick Tips on Common App Essays

There are 7 essay prompts you will need to write, and how to approach each of them will be explained further. Before we do that, here are a few things you need to keep in mind before writing your essay.

  • You have a limit of 650 words to express yourself. 650 words to bring yourself to life, communicate to the reader who you really are as a person.
  • Restating what you mentioned in your resume, will just speak for the assumption that you have nothing much to offer. Avoid that.
  • Avoid overgeneralized or polarized topics and opinions, make sure the things you do mention are within the bounds of reality.
  • Technical mistakes need to be carefully looked at and corrected.
  • Do not keep it centric to any particular college or university as there won’t be just one board of a college reading your essay.

How to Approach the Common App Essays

How to Write the Common App Essay Prompts 2021 – 2022

Now is the time for me to share with you the approach, you can follow, writing the prompts.

How to Write the Common App Essay Prompt 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.

This prompt isn’t difficult to understand. We all have a story to share, something that is very personal and important to us. It can be an incident in your life that influenced your decisions, things that grab your interest, or any talent you have, without which you think yourself to be incomplete.

Here you narrate a story; a story of growth, learnings, or friendships that projects your identity into the mind of the reader. With the help of this prompt, you will be able to convey everything you like to indulge in and lose yourself in doing so, particularly outside of academics.

An example of this would be, someone who finds fulfillment in blogging about places they’ve been to. Just the aspect of weaving sentences together beautifully speaks for the fact that the person is creative, determined, and intelligent.

‘How have my achievements shaped who I am?’ and ‘What’s common when people closest to me say when they describe me?’, are just a few of the many questions you can ask yourself when you brainstorm.


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How to Write the Common App Essay Prompt 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?

Hardships are as integral a part of our life as we consider successes to be. They are important, but hardships without a lesson are just time in vain.

Everybody faces hardships, and everybody knows this. That is exactly why the universities aren’t as interested in knowing this, as they are in knowing how the student dealt with those hardships.

What were the learnings? What were the takeaways? How did it later impact the way someone looked at their life?

This essay is a gateway for the readers to venture into your mind and understand how it works when encountering setbacks.

How do you react to things/events when they don’t happen the way you planned and more importantly how do you move forward from that, what actions do you take? are aspects of this essay the reader is keener on knowing.

A few questions you can ask yourself when thinking about this prompt are

  • What according to me is a setback?
  • What are the ways, techniques, or methods I use to deal with my hardships?
  • What have been the learnings I derived from the challenges I faced?

How to Write the Common App Essay Prompt 3

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

It wouldn’t be wrong of me to say that things get real here. Our beliefs are some of the most sacred parts of our identity, they bear great strength yet are highly vulnerable.

There are instances in everyone’s life when your beliefs are questioned, even challenged by people who, not exactly, but most share a contrary set of beliefs. Oftentimes, you become that person.

What is it that ignites the flame in you to challenge existing beliefs or ideas that you yourself don’t perceive to be right? What is it that you can’t resist taking a stand for?

There are some questions you need to ask yourself. Although the readers aren’t precisely interested in how you think vs how you act, that shouldn’t stop you from mentioning tiny victories that paint a picture of your righteous nature.

One thing you must remember is that it’s best suited in your interest if you avoid taking the moral high ground.

How to Approach the Common App Essay Prompts 2021 - 2022
Image Source: Princeton Review

How to Write the Common App Essay Prompt 4

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?

Being grateful is a character trait that almost everyone appreciates and adores in a person. Someone being grateful for what others have done for them really says a lot about a person, and that’s exactly what the reader here is interested in knowing.

I’m certain that you can think of a moment when you felt gratitude for someone instantly, it doesn’t have to be something huge. It can just be a couple of sentences your teacher said that took off the cloud of stress hovering over you for days, and this affected the outcome in a lucrative manner.

Along with this, the reader is interested to know how you yourself pay it forward. Ways in which you express your gratitude, and your thoughts about how important of a role it plays in a person’s life.

Again a reminder, make this story about yourself however small the scale of experiences be.

How to Write the Common App Essay Prompt 5

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

An event or realization that led to your transition to being an adult(figuratively), is what needs to be of emphasis here.

Here, you need to explain your acceptance of responsibilities that correlates with an event where you witnessed yourself grow. A formal accomplishment can be a go-to if nothing else comes to your mind, else an informal event or realization will allow you to be more creative and original. You should try your best to stay within the range of the topic while being humble when writing this.

What are ways you deal with change? Is there a “eureka” moment that has had a significant impact on the trajectory of your life? These are a couple of questions you can ask yourself when approaching this prompt.

How to Write the Common App Essay Prompt 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?

You’ve more often than not, must’ve found yourself in situations where the passage of hours felt like minutes. You were involved in something so engaging that it made you lose the sense of time.

What is it that triggers your curiosity? How do you feed the hunger for knowledge? Do you have a place, people, or a community that you turn to when you need answers?

Asking such questions yourself will help you find what is needed here. It can be a new scientific or technological discovery, exploring and understanding a foreign culture, or even a hobby that’s not just limited to practice but aids growth and pushes you beyond what you think you’re capable of.

Share the lengths you go to in pursuit of knowledge.

How to Write the Common App Essay Prompt 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.

This prompt brings with it largely no constraints and infinite possibilities. This open-ended prompt allows you to fill in the void of anything that’s left of you to display to the reader. Maybe it can be something that doesn’t exactly fit in the range of other prompts mentioned above.

As much as you have the liberty here, your essay must revolve around your passions, both academic and non-academic, personality traits, behavioral traits, qualities that make you easily identifiable in a crowd, etc.

Avoiding political and religious expression here is highly advised.

Final Thoughts

This entire process can be intimidating, stressful, or even difficult. In the end, what you will have is a beautiful set of essays that communicate not just who you are but everything that is important to you to the reader in the best possible manner.

I hope this was helpful and gave you a good idea of what you need to know when you approach the prompts.

About Pavan Somwanshi:


Pavan Somwanshi is an India-based freelance content writer and a curious human being trying to learn things every day to make a better sense of the world. Pavan is a BSc Statistics Graduate from Pune University.

Additionally, Pavan is a management and entrepreneurship aspirant, a tech geek, an occasional philosopher, and a multitasker who excels at juggling tasks on both a professional and personal level.

He follows the liberal and egalitarian schools of thought, respects ideas, and encourages rational debates along with actively engaging in critical thinking. He finds his fulfillment with work, studies, communicating ideas, and being around people he cares about. You can connect with Pavan on LinkedIn.

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