common app essay prompts

According to the Princeton Review, over 900 colleges use the Common Application (Common App) for their admissions process. The Common App opens and begins accepting applications every year on August 1. Prior to this, Common App administrators announce the essay prompts for the current school year.

Announcing these prompts earlier than the application period allows applicants time to brainstorm and practice drafting their personal essay.

What are Common App Essays?

A Common App essay is a college applicant’s primary writing sample within the Common App portal. College admissions advisors use this writing sample to select the best applicants for their incoming class. The Common App essay allows students to write one personal essay instead of multiple essays for each school.

The Common App offers seven different prompts to help students reflect on their experiences, interests, or pivotal life moments. This self-reflection will provide the raw materials for an authentic, memorable response to the prompt of each applicant’s choosing. Students can access these prompts at any time through the Common App website.

Common App Essay Formatting and Prompts

Common App essays should be between 250 and 650 words. Applicants may use the traditional five-paragraph essay format when responding to the prompt of their choice. We recommend writing the essay in a separate document and pasting the final draft into the application.

The Common App editor does not allow indentions to indicate new paragraphs. Applicants can insert a blank line between each paragraph to break up the text.

A personal essay serves as the first introduction between the applicant and admissions advisor. The essay should be authentic and engaging to showcase the applicant as an individual. This provides a holistic perspective and highlights different ways applicants can contribute to a college campus.

In the 2021-22 admissions cycle, the Common App essay prompt developers created seven prompts with 95% overall satisfaction. With such positive feedback from students, advisors, teachers, and colleges, the developers decided to keep the same prompts.

The 2023-24 Common App essay 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. 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?
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  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?
  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.

According to Common App, the most popular prompts are:

  • Prompt seven with a selection rate of 24.1%
  • Prompt five with a selection rate of 23.7%
  • Prompt two with a selection rate of 21.1%

Practice Drafting Personal Essays Using Common App Prompts

Good personal essays tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Great personal essays can condense these points, produce a tight narrative, and answer the proposed essay prompt. To do this, we recommend applicants spend time brainstorming their selected prompt.

During the brainstorming phase, applicants can freely explore multiple prompts to discover which one best highlights their strengths and experiences. This phase allows applicants time to self-reflect, analyze each prompt, and course correct before they begin their first draft. As an applicant self-reflects, they should examine the impact of previous experiences to discover interesting aspects of their story.

Common App essay prompts are designed to help applicants explore their personal values, goals, memories, and priorities. During the brainstorming phase, applicants should focus solely on getting their ideas onto the page. Not all these ideas will be used in the final draft, however they can lead to other related topics.

Applicants can rearrange these ideas when they outline their essay. Outlining allows applicants to arrange ideas, determine the order of events, and see how each idea relates to the next. This streamlines the drafting process by providing a clear sequence of events from beginning to end.

We suggest editing and revising rough drafts of a personal essay before submitting the final version. If possible, have someone else read revised drafts prior to final essay submission. A fresh set of eyes can catch mistakes an applicant may have missed during their own revisions.

To reduce errors during revisions, we recommend stepping away between the drafting and editing phases of the process. This allows applicants to look at their work with fresh eyes and ensure they are producing their best work. Reading the essay out loud can help applicants hear their essay and identify errors they may have previously overlooked.

College Essay Support at C2

At C2 Education, we know how challenging it is to stand out in today’s competitive college application environment. Our expert tutors have guided thousands of students through the process, from prompt selection to final edits. With personalized guidance, our team members support students every step of the way.

Students develop a clear sense of themselves through our college essay support program. They then leverage that knowledge into thoughtful, authentic, and well-crafted writing. At the end of our process, students leave with four completed essays and an essay matrix to recycle topics as needed.

More than anything, our tutoring program gives students the confidence to complete any college essay they encounter.

Next Steps

Writing a compelling personal essay using the Common App essay prompts allows applicants to highlight their individuality. It provides a glimpse into what makes each applicant different and what they can bring to a college campus beyond academics. Before applicants put pen to paper, they should spend time exploring each prompt.

Applicants only have 650 words to leave a lasting impression on college admissions advisors. Brainstorming, drafting, revising, and editing can help applicants make each one count.

Take the guesswork out of the Common App Essay by chatting with our experts today!