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Common App Essay Prompts Are Changing!

Author: Charlotte Mason
by Charlotte Mason
Posted: Apr 26, 2018
our seniors

We have good news coming in from our seniors! Many are getting into their top choices, and a few even received personalized notes about their college essays.

Here’s what American University wrote one of our seniors in her acceptance letter:

"[Name], your essay is terrific! Your ability to love all of your imperfections and gain self-confidence is outstanding. You are undoubtedly one of a kind and perfectly imperfect, and that is why we want you at American University."

What you should know is this senior took a risk with her essay. She came in with a different essay she wasn’t thrilled about because she didn’t believe it spoke for her. After a few other attempts, including one that ended in tears, I asked her, "What do you really want to write about?"

Her story–about her struggle to accept her imperfections and work with them, not against them–was honest, vulnerable, and touching.

In the end, she felt good because she had written something she was proud of.

Her experience confirms what we at JC Writing Studio already know. The essay does matter and might be the difference between a "maybe" and a "yes"!

There are some big changes coming to the essay section of the Common App, including a complete revision of the topics and a 650-word limit that will be strictly enforced.

I’ll admit when I first heard about the change–including revoking the "topic of your choice" option–I balked. Not one who likes to be told what to do, I thought, "How can you take away free choice?"

The essay has always been the one part of the college application where students can express themselves, however they like.

In the past, when a student just couldn’t make a focused question work or had an original, even risky idea, I’d say, "Prompt #6."

No more.

According to the Common Application Board of Directors, they didn’t make the changes lightly. They spent two years discussing the role writing plays in the application process and seeking input from 15 counselors with "decades of experience advising students from every academic, social, cultural, and economic background."

The reaction to the new prompts has varied. Some embrace the new topics and say they are broad enough to encompass a wide range of experiences–with #1 being pretty close to "topic of your choice."

Others believe they will simply generate clichéd essays as there is no room to take a compositional risk.

I recently spoke with a friend who’s a guidance counselor, and she loves the new questions (she even swayed me). She believes the prompts will create more thought-provoking responses, helping students reflect more and share their most personal accomplishments, challenges, and beliefs.

In a way, the prompts are asking students to take an approach that fits with how JC Writing Studio coaches writing the professional writer service essay.

It’s not about simply answering the question but about sharing a personal story and reflecting on how that experience has shaped or affected you.

When I read a student’s essay, I ask him or her: Could anyone else have written this?

If so, I encourage him or her to go back and find ways to add more personal details, giving it a unique voice. And I show him or her how to incorporate narrative elements–description, dialogue, structure–to captivate the reader.

Now, with all of these changes, it’s more important than ever to start drafting the essay early.

We’d also love to know your opinion on the new prompts.

About the Author

I hold a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, and have been teaching English composition and literature for over 7 years. It saves a lot of time if an experienced and professional will assist in your coursework.

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Author: Charlotte Mason

Charlotte Mason

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United States

Member since: Apr 26, 2018
Total live articles: 1

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