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Common Application

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Back By Popular Demand: 2016-2017 Common Application Keeps Same Prompts

Juniors rest easy.  The Common Application is keeping the same prompts as last year. These prompts give you great options.

According to the Common Application, last year 47% responded the the first prompt, which is essentially a topic of your choice, while 22% wrote about an accomplishment in prompt 5, 17% about a lesson from a failure, 10% about a problem solved, and 4% about challenging a belief or idea.

It’s too bad more students didn’t write about challenging a belief or idea, because every time they do community service or volunteer they are doing so, as are students who are fighting for their education. Here are the returning prompts:

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2016-2017 Essay Prompts 
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 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?
3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
4. Describe 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.
5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.


Tell Me More: Use Writing Supplements To Strengthen Your College Applications

  1. Embrace All Supplemental Writing Requirements. Most selective colleges using the Common tell me moreApplication have individual Member Questions and/or Writing Supplements. Colleges that have supplemental essays really want to learn more about you– from you. So give them what they want. Great supplemental essay responses will give admissions officers more reasons to admit you and even give you a scholarship.
  2. Each college’s supplemental questions are unique. While all colleges will see your Common Application, only the individual colleges will see your additional responses. So each extra writing assignment is12-distinctions-between-small-medium-and-large-businesses-2-638different. Some will have one essay while others will have several. Each question and/or supplement, no matter what it requires you to provide, is another opportunity to provide more valuable information about yourself to the colleges you seek to attend.
  3. Length and formats vary. Be prepared to write a variety of supplemental essays from short one-line responses to medium size varysize responses to 650 word essays. No matter what the length, each response is a new chance to tell a different story or message about what you will offer a college. Also some you paste in a box, while others you upload.
  4. Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 8.22.44 PMRead college’s specific essay tips. Most colleges now have a variety of ways to communicate their views on college essays. Some even provide model essays, including,Johns Hopkins UniversityCarleton College, and Connecticut College. Others give great tips from The University of California Berkeley and Boston University. Read how colleges view the essays on their websites. College specific tips may help you write essays that you engage your admissions readers
  1. Be even smarter than the smart writing questions or supplements. Some of your questions will appear based on what you answer in Member Question about particular majors or merit scholarships. Don’t be surprised if an essay disappears if you change your major or select no to a particular program or scholarship. Keep a running track of what you have to write for each prompt based on your Member Question selections.
  2. Learn deeply about the personality and reputation of college. Think of what each college values when writing your supplemental essays. If the college is large, and asks a community or diversity question, think how you can make a big campus small. Think how you can enrich a diverse community and how well you can join existing communities. If the college is small, think of ways you can truly engage as a member of an intense learning community. If the college is religious, think of ways you can enrich the spiritual community.
  3. Let us help you. All College Application Essays has done the hard work of collecting all the Supplemental Essays for you. We Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 7.55.46 PMtell you where to find them, what each additional essay prompt requires, and the length and submission format. Use the time we save you writing powerful essays that communicate even more reasons for a college to accept you.
  4. Recycle recycleessays and re-use supplemental essays wisely. Remember, each question and/or supplement is separate and belongs to the individual college and you. The colleges do not communicate with each other, so you can use some of your essays over and over again, especially the longer ones and the optional activity statements. For example, you can see a way to use your University of Chicago Supplemental essays as your Boston College Supplement. Yet don’t be careless and cut and paste a college specific essay into the wrong college.
  5. Share more core qualities in college “Dating” essays. Many colleges have specific essays prompts geared around why you and the college are a good match. Read the specific wording on these prompts. Some colleges want only academic information while others want an overall essay. Understand that if they have this prompt, they want to know how you will fit into their campuses. They don’t want mere recaps of what they know they offer. Think of how you can engage specifically on their campuses. Some campuses even send these essays out to professors or specific communities to read. Give specific examples from your visits, college fair talks with admissions officers, or emails with professors or current students. Let them picture you on their campuses by literally picturing yourself on their campus. Ultimately, give colleges what they want, a reason to ask you out and ideally propose.
  6. Nothing is optional. Some colleges give you some optional essays. Do not ignore these options to offer new information.  Each essay is a chance to share a new reason why you belong on that campus. Of course, don’t force yourself to answer an essay that doesn’t match.

Five Key Essay Facts in 2015-2016 Common Application

We have been busy exploring the 2015-2016 Common Application. Here are five key facts about the essay completion and submission process to make your work easier. Our website and app provide all the information about the essays required for the 2015-2016 Common Application.Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 10.02.13 AM

1. Required or Not Required Main Essay With Unlimited Edits. The Common Application main essay is now optional for colleges, which can choose to require it or not require it. Even if a college doesn’t require it, you can still submit it. After adding a college to your list, go to the Common Application Writing Section, and you will see whether the college requires the main essay or not. Remember this year, there are unlimited edits to the Main Essay. 

2. Dashboard Writing Grid. The Common Application now has a grid on the Dashboard to let you know about the Writing Requirements. Screen Shot 2015-08-01 at 10.02.41 AMThere are three columns in the Writing Requirements grid: Personal Essays, Member Questions, and Writing Supplement. There are also three colored symbols. Red means required elements. Yellow means optional components, while Blue means there are extra requirements for particular applicants. The grid won’t tell you where the blue elements are located exactly or what the smart elements are, but at least you know there are smart essays that pop up for different majors.

3. Supplemental Essays in Both Member Questions and Writing Supplement. The supplemental writing requirements are still distributed around the application. Some are included in Member Questions, while others are in the Writing Supplement section. Don’t assume there aren’t required writing requirements for a college if you don’t see a Writing Supplement. For example, Boston University has its required and program specific essays under Member Questions: Essays, while Barnard puts it supplemental essays in its Writing Supplement. Some colleges put writing requirements in both sections. See below for examples.

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Essays in Writing Supplement

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Essays In Member Questions










  1. Smart Essays. There are smart essays embedded in many applications. You will need to find them. Some are for specific major choices like Cornell and USC, while others are for honors programs and scholarships. They vary.
  1. Different Word Requirements. There are different word lengths for required essays for certain circumstances. The educational interruption section explanation is now 250 words or less, while the required explanations of disciplinary issues are now 400 words or less. The Common Application and Additional Information are still 650 maximum words. For supplemental writing requirements, some word limits are provided, while others you will find out by completing the essay.

all college essaysIECA Spring 2015 Presenter and Exhibitor

Baltimore native Dr. Rebecca Joseph will be presenting at Spring 2015 IECA on the amazing topic of “Rehabbing Your Image: Using College Essays To Strengthen Applications of Students Who Have Experienced Challenges.” She will be presenting with fellow IECA member Elizabeth Stone and U VA Associate Director of Admissions Valerieieca Gregory and Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Educational Advisor and Former Stonehill and Northeastern Admissions Officer, Evan Read.

WEDNESDAY, MAY 6• 3:00 – 4:15 P.M.

Dr. J, founder and creator, of All College Application Essays

Dr. J, founder and creator, of All College Application Essays


Dr.  Joseph is the the founder and creator of All College Application Essays. She will be exhibiting at IECA. Come visit us for info about her integrated mobile app and website. Enter for a free year and receive a free month at the All College Application Essays booth.

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.


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.

Directions To Get Started:

We are so excited. Our All College Application Essays website and integrated mobile apps are up and running. Our updated Google app and Apple App, and the two are inter-connected, so you can use your log in information for both. NOTE: You can only purchase our service on our website–either on your computer or website. 

People wanting to get started using our new, improved site, just need to follow the following steps.Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 11.24.47 PM


1. Go to our website either on your computer or mobile device:

2. Sign up for an account. It’s easy to do.  Just go to upper right hand corner of page and click on sign up. Your user name and password enable you to access the site on all portals–website and apps. (See picture below of sign up page).

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Website on Computer Version of Packages


Mobile Version of Website (Package Purchase Button Not Allowed On Apps).

3. After you make an account,

      1 Website on computer useres: then click on Packages on the dashboard and choose your package.

      2 Website on mobile users, click on menu bars on upper left hand sign of screen. On drop down menu, click on packages and choose your package.

4. To pay, the site will take you to Pay Pal, where you can use your account or just enter your credit card data as a guest user. It’s secure, and I never receive your account info. All accounts are good for one year from purchase price.

5. If you have a google phone or device, go to the store, and download it for free at You can set up your account from the app as well. If you have an iTunes account, you can download the app for free and update your current app.

6. To get started using the app, after downloading it, just use your same username and password. The two sites are inter-connected. They update automatically, and require you to be connected to the internet to use.

7. Former users of our app, will need to create a new account as we upgraded our services and are now working on a 12 months user contract. It takes so much labor to update each year that we believe the new payment system is only fair.

Make Your Stories Pop: 10 College Application Essay Guiding Questions

Working on the drafts of your personal statements for your college applications? The drafting process is critical and can help make your stories and messages clearer.  Please be willing to draft and re-write to make your essays stronger.

Here are 10 questions to help guide you through the editing process. I hope they can help make your stories pop on the page and help you get admitted to your match colleges and receive lots of scholarship money.

  1. Does your essay start with a story that hooks us in from the first paragraph?all college essays
  2. If you start in the past, do you get to the present very quickly? Colleges want to know about the recent you. Great essays can start more recently and weave in past events.
  3. Do you write only in the first person and not spend too much time describing anyone or anything else? Use my one-third-two-third rule. You may not spend more than 1/3 of the essay describing anything other than your own activities and goals.
  4. If you are writing about your community or family, do you get to the present and your life and life works quickly? Can this description only connect to you and your story of who are you and how you are making a difference?
  5. Do you only tell one story and not try to tell your entire life story?
  6. If you are writing about an obstacle or challenge overcome, do you get to how you have responded and made a difference in the life of your community by the second or third paragraph of the essay? Admissions officers want to know who are you and how you make an impact drawing upon your obstacles or challenges.
  7. Do you have a metaphor that goes through the entire piece…does this metaphor reveal who you are and what you offer to potential colleges? You can embed this metaphor throughout out your piece.
  8. Can I close my eyes and picture your story? Does it make you sound unique and not like anyone else applying? Can I see your leadership and initiative and the power of what you will offer a college campus?
  9. Do you tell new stories and qualities in each separate essay your write? Do you make sure to reveal powerful information and core messages that colleges will need to know to admit you and give you money to attend?
  10. Endings-Do you end with a bang? Do you make it clear by the end you have goals and aspirations that drive you. Your endings must be specific for some prompts like the University of California and University of Texas, but can be more oblique and implied in Common Application and many supplementary essays. Do you end leaving the reader with the desire to get to know you more, to see you on his or her campus, and to share your essay with someone else?

2014-2015 All College Application Essays AUGUST Essays Update

Can’t you believe it? We have already updated more than 700 colleges. There are still a few universities who haven’t posted their writing supplements or released their own applications or honors essays. Here are the Common and Universal Applications that haven’t released supplements as of August 25, 2015.

We hope to have our new web and app version out by September 1, 2014. It’s not easy dealing with developers that live overseas. So thanks for your patience.

Common Application Supplements Not Yet Out. You can tell we have updated an application with new deadlines and 2014-2015 at top of essay page.

Dr. J, founder and creator, of All College Application Essays

Dr. J, founder and creator, of All College Application Essays

  • American University–need to check in September for AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship for International Students:
  • Bard Early Start–check essays in September
  • Dominican University of California-updated all but Nursing Supp. not yet available
  • Emory University–Merit scholarship essays not yet updated on Emory website
  • Lake Erie College
  • Long Island University Brooklyn Campus
  • Mount St. Mary’s College-Los Angeles
  • Naropa University
  • Pine Manor College
  • Rhode Island School of Design
  • Rice University-2015 Rice/Baylor College of Medicine Applicants
  • Roger Williams University
  • Saint Francis University
  • Siena College- Supplement for Medical program not yet available
  • Southern Connecticut State University
  • The George Washington University (Writing Supplement not yet available)
  • University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (Writing Supplement not available yet)

Universal Application Supplements Not Yet Available

  • Brandeis
  • Milwaukee
  • Rice

Common Application Member Pages or Writing Supplements

When the 2014-2015 The Common Application is released this Friday, applicants will find supplemental essays in two potential places: the college’s Member Page or a separate Writing Supplement. The 2014-2015 Universal Application is exclusively using supplements. All College Application Essays will continue to place all university scommonapppecific requirements for the Common or Universal Application under Supplements AND universalappwe will let you know where to locate them.

Good luck to all rising seniors and transfer students on their college application process.

2014-2015 Boston College Writing Supplement

bc (from 2013 Rebeccas-macbook-pro)

For both freshmen and transfers:

We would like to get a better sense of you. Please select one of the questions below and write an essay of 400 words or less providing your response.

1. What contemporary issues or trend relating to politics, culture and society, or foreign policy particularly concerns you and why?

2. Many human beings throughout history have found inspiration and joy in literature and works of art. Is there a book, play, poem, movie, painting, music selection, or photograph that has been especially meaningful for you?

3. Contemporary higher education reflects a tension between preparing for a meaningful life and preparing for a career. What are you looking for in an undergraduate education? Which emphasis is important to you at this moment and why?

4. “Magis”, a Latin word meaning “more,” is often cited in reference to the goals of Jesuit education, which seeks to help students become better, do more, and have as much impact on society as possible. How do you hope to achieve the Magis in your life?

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