Common App’s New Prompt for 2021 Looks for Heart

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Julia de Raadt
Julia de Raadt

Julia has dedicated much of her career to education. Since commencing with Empowerly, Julia has looked after the research team which handles student questions on different topics about college admission.

The Common App has released a new essay prompt in its 2021-22 application. Find out what the new prompt is and how to answer it.

This year the Common App decided to inject a new prompt into its list, retiring an old prompt not often utilized by applicants. The new prompt is as follows:

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?

In the current context, it seems entirely appropriate. In the midst of a pandemic, we have all been confronted by drastic change, and many aspects of our lives have been negatively affected. But during this challenging time, many of us have also witnessed the kindness and generosity of others, in the most unexpected ways. 

The Common App obviously had this in mind. The President and CEO, Jenny Rickard stated, “Particularly at this challenging time, we can help students think about something positive and heartfelt in their lives. And we can do it explicitly.”

This is a prompt focussed on kindness that has surprised us. And it seeks self-reflection, prompting us to contemplate how the kindness of others has impacted us. Unlike the other prompts that focus on your own efforts to self-development, this prompt recognises the contributions of others to your development, and how it has changed you. 

The question asks you to think about an act of kindness towards you, focusing on the element of surprise. Was it the act itself or the person that surprised you? Or were you surprised that you felt grateful or happy? The options are endless,  it could be a person who ordinarily wouldn’t have done something to make you happy. Or an action that you didn’t expect would make you happy. 

Further to this, it asks you to reflect on how the act has impacted you. How did it change you? Did it motivate you? Did it push you to do something that you normally wouldn’t have done? Reflect on what you learnt about yourself and your community!

If you think this question resonates with you and you can tell something unique about you or your story, then this might be the prompt to respond to.  And if not, don’t force it, remember you have six others to choose from!

In case you have forgotten…

The Common App’s six other prompts are: 

  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.
  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?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  5. 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?
  6. 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.

Concluding thoughts

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