2015-2016 Common APP Essays Prompts and Commentary

By Rebecca Joseph

The NewsScreen Shot 2015-03-31 at 6.05.59 PM

The Common Application last week released its 2015-2016 freshman essay prompts. They include one entirely new prompt (prompt four) replacing the one about the place where you are perfectly content. They revised the first two prompts and kept two (essay three and five). The length of 250-650 words remains the same, and colleges can now make the essay optional. The Common Application also states that it will help kids identify all supplemental essays they need to write in a more streamlined way.

Here are the prompts with the new sections italicized next to last year’s prompts

2015-2016 Prompts 2013-2015 Prompts
Prompt One- RevisedSome 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.

 

Prompt OneSome students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

 

Prompt Two- RevisedThe lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success.Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

 

Prompt Two 

Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure.  How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

 

Prompt Three- SameReflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again? Prompt ThreeReflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea.  What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

 

Prompt Four- NewDescribe 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.  Prompt Four 

Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content.  What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

 

Prompt Five- SameDiscuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family. Prompt Five

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Commentary

Prompt 1. Thank goodness this prompt now includes talents and interests. It empowers students to tell any number of powerful stories about their passions. It changes “central” to “meaningful” freeing writers to tell a wide range of unique stories. It seems to me like a cool alternative to topic of your choice.

Prompt 2. I am glad that the new prompt starts with lessons from failure that lead to success as the former prompt led many students to stay mired in failures without discussing even more relevant successes. After all, colleges want to know who the applicants are now because of former failures.

Prompt 3. This prompt about challenging ideas or beliefs remains the same and always leads to fascinating essays. I always tell students that community service actions often challenge the status quo, and anyone who is the first in their families to go to college always challenge ideas and beliefs.

Prompt 4. This entirely new prompt is interesting and will now empower students to explore intellectual topics and other problems they solve in and out of classrooms. It does potentially overlap with prompt three as solving problems can often challenge beliefs or ideas.

Prompt 5. This prompt remains the same, and yet it’s the prompt that the fewest of the students I work with across all socio-economic, ethnic, and cultural groups tackle. Few teens view themselves as adults, and writing about bar-mitzvahs and quinceaneras does not usually lead to great essays. It takes more work to help a student see this prompt as relevant and to realize that many of their actions show how they are now “adults.”Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 6.10.02 PM

Final thoughts.

It’s a shame that the one explicitly happiness oriented prompt is gone because I witnessed amazing essays emerge from students grappling with what it means to be content in complex situations. But I can imagine that many of the essays that never had any dimension frustrated and even bored admissions officers.

I wonder why the multi-pronged application with such reach is now making the long essay optional. Writing the essay provides teens with an incredible opportunity to share unique stories that communicate what they can offer colleges. Colleges that make it optional may be trying to up application numbers while missing out on a key source of original data.

I do thank the Common Application for including a wide range of voices in their surveys and displaying more transparency in their non-profit work.


About Rebecca

Dr. Rebecca Joseph is the developer of this unique integrated website and mobile application that provides all college application requirements for more than 750 major universities in the US and Canada. She has a PhD from UCLA and is a national expert on writing powerful college application essays.

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