As you know, there are seven prompts this year for the Common App essay. And here they are:
2017-2018 Common Application Essay Prompts
If I were to ask you to pick one prompt and set to writing on it, you might start to sweat with anxiety.
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]
Ok, I read these. I understand them. Now what do I write about?
That which shall not be named (writer’s block) is the experience many students have when asked to face the questions head on.
Sure, you can, and should, jot down whatever comes to mind as you review these prompts, but then what? What do you do next?
I prefer to go through the side door!
For me, this involves asking a student to come up with five (or more than five) significant moments in their lives — times when they went into an experience one person, and came out slightly, or more than slightly, changed.
These could be things like the first time they realized they could add in their head, the time they almost drowned in a tidal wave when an ocean liner went by the beach, the day their mom told them they were adopting a little girl from China.
But moments are important. “Last summer” is too broad. Find specific moment in which something happened that changed you.
Next, well you probably know what I”m going to say: FREE WRITE in a loose, free, stream of consciousness way about these moments specifically. Show, and tell, and reflect on the experience in any order you like. Exhaust the topic. Be FREE, but use full sentences!
From there, you can look at what you’ve written to see what you have to say. Often, the topic will present itself, sometimes in disguise. See how your significant moments relate to each other. And then, see if there is a common thread or theme.
My experience is that going about it in this way will result in THE WAND FINDING THE WIZARD!!
Be open to what presents itself. Go where the river takes you.
It’s a whole heck of a lot easier than worrying what you’re going to write about. Try it. And let me know how it works! Leave me a comment. I’m always eager to know what you think!