2022-2023 Common App Essay Prompts
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Author: Amanda Rhoden

How to Answer Common App Essay Prompts

With so many colleges and universities becoming more competitive, the college essay is an integral part of the application. Over 1 million students and 900 U.S. schools use the Common App, making it one of the most popular general application options. As an increasing number of students apply to schools, you may wonder how you can make your college essay stand out. A well-written essay can help add value to your application, and act as an introduction to admissions counselors. Our online education center will discuss the value of choosing a quality Common App essay prompt and how to answer each one. 

How to Choose a Common App Essay Prompt

The Personal Statement section of the Common App is one of the most valuable aspects as it allows you to be creative and grab the reader’s attention. You will want to choose a prompt that highlights a key feature about yourself, whether it’s a skill, interest, or personal experience. Before choosing which essay prompt is best for you, start by asking yourself these essential questions:

  • What will the college admissions officers know about you before reading your essay?
  • What information do you want them to know about you that isn’t showcased from your awards, classes, or extracurricular activities? 
  • What story do you want to tell?

Different Common App Essay Prompts

How do you write a great essay in 650 words or less? Understanding key information about each essay prompt will help you. So to help, here are the seven most common app essay prompts for you to think about:

Common App Essay Prompt No. 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.”

Many students think that there is not anything unique about them. You don’t need to be a beekeeper or play the violin at Carnegie Hall to select this college essay prompt. Are you passionate about hot sauce? Do you secretly love to dance while you paint? Do you excel at speed skipping? Some things to consider:

  • Your communities: Do you lead a Dungeons and Dragons or chess game every Friday night with kids from your neighborhood? These count as your community.
  • Your culture: family culture, geographical culture, or your heritage can all count in this point.
  • Aspects in life that have helped you become the person you are.

As with any of the essay prompts, this especially should be a story that only you can write, because it is personal. Remember also to show your story, not tell. You can do this by using descriptive language that evokes the five senses. Instead of writing, “I love cliff jumping,” try, “standing bare feet hanging off of a 100-foot drop, I felt terrified … and exhilarated.”

Common App Essay Prompt No. 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?”

With this common app prompt, you want to make sure the focus of your essay isn’t on the problem, but on what you learned. Focus more on the lesson than on the challenge itself. Colleges are looking to see if you are resilient, can think critically, and can solve  problems. You may also want to showcase that you have never given up or were able to develop a positive quality related to a challenge you faced. Some things to consider:

  • Obstacles or challenges you’ve faced: Consider what has happened in your lifetime and how it affected you in the long term. 
  • Hardships you’ve experienced: Ask yourself how a hardship can change someone for the better? 

Even though you are writing about overcoming obstacles, you want to make this as positive as possible. Some students even write about unresolved challenges. Has this adversity changed your outlook or routines? How has it made you better?

Common App Essay Prompt No. 3

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

With this essay prompt, you can highlight your principles, beliefs, and critical thinking skills. You can write about something deeply personal; just be careful when writing about anything overtly controversial. Remember, you don’t want to isolate or offend the deciding committee reading your essay. Some things you might want to consider are:

  • Anywhere you spend time outside of school 
  • People you interact with. Do you have rousing dinner conversations with your family where everyone voices a different opinion? How do you find common ground?
  • People you admire and how they have shaped your worldview 
  • Things you’ve stood up for and the reason for doing so
  • Things you’re passionate about and how you make a difference 

The committee wants to hear your authentic voice. Choose this option if you have a specific idea in mind that’s meaningful to you. 

Common App Essay Prompt No. 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?”

Gratitude is a quality that can show your respect for others, and is an admirable quality to highlight in your admissions essay. Some things to consider for this common app essay prompt are:

  • Compliments you’ve received and why 
  • Criticism or feedback you’ve grown from
  • Gifts you’ve received or given
  • Random acts of kindness that impacted you

With this essay, it can be easy to get sidetracked writing about the person that gave you the gift or even the gift itself. To avoid this, write your essay with yourself as the main focus. 

Common App Essay Prompt No. 5

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

You don’t need to have a gold medal, LLC, or new invention to respond to this college essay prompt. The words “event” and “realization” leave this prompt open for lots of different topics to write about. Maybe you traveled alone for the first time and realized the value of independence or that flying wasn’t as scary as you thought. You could consider writing about:

  • Your accomplishments: What are they, and what is their value? 
  • Major events in your life and how they have shaped your personality
  • Things you are most proud of and why 

When discussing any of your accomplishments or moments of personal growth, be sure to keep your tone humble. There is a fine balance between hubris and humility. You can talk about your triumphs without singing your own praises. 

Common App Essay Prompt No. 6

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?”

Although you may not want to describe your obsession with TikTok challenges or your love of sleeping, you do want to be true to yourself. You will want to find a topic that is authentic to you, but avoid topics that you are not passionate about. This should be something that you’re truly invested in and enjoy participating in. For this common app prompt, consider writing about:

  • Your hobbies and interests: What are they and how are they beneficial? 
  • Your passions: How do they add value to your life or to others? 
  • Things you enjoy learning more about and why

Common App Essay Prompt No. 7

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?”

Although you may not want to describe your obsession with TikTok challenges or your love of sleeping, you do want to be true to yourself. You will want to find a topic that is authentic to you, but avoid topics that you are not passionate about. This should be something that you’re truly invested in and enjoy participating in. For this common app prompt, consider writing about:

  • Your hobbies and interests: What are they and how are they beneficial? 
  • Your passions: How do they add value to your life or to others? 
  • Things you enjoy learning more about and why

Show how you incorporate this theme into your life. As an example, if you are passionate about world health, what are you doing to nurture this passion? You don’t need to join the Peace Corps to prove you have a love for helping humanity; however, you will want to show a way in which you engage with this topic. 

Common App Essay Prompt No. 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 is great because you can write about anything! Do you have an interesting story you want to share? This is the wild-card essay prompt, the one that allows you to tell any story you want to tell. So have fun with it. Some things you’ll want to consider are:

  • What stories do you find yourself telling your friends over dinner?
  • What would you tell a stranger about yourself if you had only 30 seconds to explain? 
  • Favorite stories: What are they, and how will they engage your audience?

The most important component that all colleges are looking for is a unique point of view. Your college essay should be a story that only you can write. It doesn’t matter which of the common app prompts you chose, as long as it is able to capture your story and showcase a part of your identity that admissions officers can’t learn from your transcript and extracurricular activities list. For further essay help, talk to our advisor and contact Knovva Academy today!

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