What is the Common Application?

You might be familiar with the Common Application, Common App for short, which serves as a single application that is shared by over 900 colleges, including every Ivy League school and similarly elite universities like Stanford. The Common App allows you to enter information like your name, demographics, extracurricular activities, and more just once for every school that uses it. It’s also where you’ll encounter “The Common App Essay,” otherwise known as your personal statement (PS).

Though not every school uses the Common App—many state or public schools often have their own systems—the work you do in writing your Common App Essay will serve you in every other component of the process, including applying to non-Common App schools and writing the secondary and supplemental essays that often accompany both types of applications.

Why does the Common App Essay matter?

In order to get into your dream school, you’ll need not only great grades and test scores, but also a strong personal statement.

Why? Your personal statement is the single loudest ‘qualitative’ element of your application. It brings the student to life behind your statistics and demographics. It’s the way you communicate with the admissions committee as a person and potential member of the campus community.

So you might be wondering how big of a role essays play when it comes to college admissions decisions. Sadly this isn’t an easy question to answer because the importance of college essays varies from school to school. However, most experts estimate that they make up for anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of admissions decisions!

Common App Essay prompts 2021–2022

Here are the 2021–2022 Common App Essay prompts—six of the seven prompts are the exact same ones as last year’s. We’ll address how to think about them shortly, so just lodge them in your brain for now.

  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.

Broad, right? You’ve got 650 free words to articulate what moves you, what excites you, what animates or explains you.

This means your essays are not a place to restate what can already be found on your resumé, CV, or Common App Activities section. They’re also not a place to prove that you’ve had some major epiphany, changed the world, or seen the truth of reality at age eighteen. They can be but do not have to be—by any means—about a major traumatic experience. They can but need not discuss family, identity, race, gender, or class.

Instead, this is the place where you give the admissions committee a chance to see the you that your friends, classmates, teachers, teammates, and family know. The Common App Essay prompts are diverse enough that they allow you to write about pretty much anything