Common College Essay Prompts

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Kristen Seikaly
Kristen Seikaly

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Perhaps you’re preparing for a college interview, or getting ready to write a college essay. Throughout the admissions process, you’ll face similar questions in each situation. Unlike the interview though, an essay allows you to give deep thought to you answer and craft your unique story. To make the most of this chance, we need to start to prepare for the common college essay prompts early on.

While many colleges require you to answer one or two specific questions, others (such as colleges who participate in the Common App) may give you a selection of common college essay prompts, and allow you to choose one or two. To select the best prompt for you and your application, first of all, look at all your options! It’s worth considering common college essay prompts and writing practice essays now. That way, you will know which one will prove to be the most substantive, organic, and unique.

Let’s go over some of the most common prompts you might face!

What is your favorite book and why?

Also a popular interview question, colleges use this question as a way to get to know you more intimately. Talking about a character you love; discussing a conflict that resonates with you; or any other way you can express empathy or understanding through a book? These will score you points. It doesn’t need to be a classic book, or even a popular one. The most honest essays come from a subject matter you’re passionate about, so write what you’re passionate about. An obscure book can also demonstrate that you’re well read and take it upon yourself to deepen your education.

This question could be directed towards people, places, or things as well. You may see similar questions such as, “Who has inspired you?” to share your personality and worldview.

Tell us something meaningful about your background.

This question can be taken a number of different ways, allowing you to explore the endless possibilities. Perhaps you believe your ethnic or religious identity has significantly shaped your worldview. Maybe you have a talent or participate in an activity that gets to the core of who you are. Whatever it may be, colleges believe that where a student has been can demonstrate where a student is going, and if you feel that is true for you, this prompt allows you to tell that story.

When did you overcome a challenge, obstacle, or failure?

Colleges don’t expect perfection, but they love to see students who are resilient and self-aware. This question gives you the opportunity to not only share that you have these skills, but to give an example of how you’ve used them. It’s one thing to say, “I am a problem solver,” but it’s much more powerful to say, “Here is how I solved a problem.”

Discuss an issue of concern to you.

An issue of concern is a broad idea, and it can be answered on a personal level, or on a broader level such as in your school or community, in the country or the world, or even as a human issue. The trick to this question is it has to truly be important to you. Talking about a hot button political issue may seem showy, but this question is designed to demonstrate your values and how those values will go with you throughout college and into your career. Therefore, be sure to choose an issue that demonstrates something about yourself rather than just an interesting talking point.

In conclusion

Remember – the colleges you end up applying to may have different essays, and you can’t prepare your final essays until you know what they are. Still, practicing with these common college essay prompts will get your creative juices flowing, help you develop a deeper understanding of yourself and your experiences, and will help you to develop your writing skills.

If none of these questions resonate with you, ask yourself why that may be. Making sure you have a well-rounded life is key to answering these questions, so if you find you’ve been too buried in college applications, give yourself a breather and come back to these prompts when you have a little more life to discuss.

Questions? Let us know!