How to Approach the 2021-22 Common App Essay
The Common App provides many advantages for high school seniors applying to multiple colleges and universities. However, with convenience comes risk, mainly with the essay section. A poorly written essay goes out to every school, lowering applicants’ chances of college admissions success.
We at myKlovr want to make sure you have the tools you need to impress college admissions counselors. That’s why in this article, we’re breaking down the seven 2021-2022 Common App essay prompts with essential tips that will make your essay the best it can be.
Disclaimer: This advice does not contain every way a college applicant can write a compelling and persuasive Common App essay. Please brainstorm ideas and consult your English teacher for further advice.
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.
The first four words that stick out are ‘background,’ ‘identity,’ ‘interest,’ and ‘talent,’ giving you some freedom to select a topic. The phrase ‘incomplete without it,’ implies that you possess a passion for your subject and will reflect that in your essay, a narrative ‘story.’
- Your essay should be a chronological narrative detailing how you became interested in a topic, how your passion grew, and what you did with that passion.
- Try using standard five-paragraph essay structure when writing the first draft.
- A narrative does not try to persuade.
- It’s okay if readers don’t care about your passion. You’re not trying to convince them of anything.
- Once you select a background/identity/interest/talent to write about, do not go off-topic.
- Readers will expect to learn about just ONE thing.
- Wrap up the essay by detailing how you plan to continue developing your background/identity/interest/talent in college.
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?
Just like before, you have choices: challenge/setback/failure. Each has a different meaning:
- Challenge: A challenge is a difficult event, but the word itself does not imply success or failure.
- Setback: A setback implies a problem that stopped you in your tracks. However, it’s something you overcame.
- Failure: Failure’s the easiest word on the list. You failed in what you set out to do.
The second part of the prompt is the challenge. Readers want to know about the obstacle’s effect on you as a person and how you changed as a result.
- Avoid a negative tone.
- Yes, your essay deals with an obstacle (not a positive experience), but the tone should remain positive.
- Don’t assign blame.
- If someone was the reason for your challenge/setback/failure, it’s best to think of another obstacle or attempt a different Common App prompt. You don’t want to imply that you still hold a grudge or consider yourself a victim.
- Focus on what you learned.
- For this essay, it’s not the story of the event that’s important but the way you grew as a person because of it. For this reason, try to limit your discussion of the event to 1-2 introductory paragraphs.
3) Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
Here’s another two-part essay! And like other options, it asks you to describe an event and reflect on how you grew as a person.
- Don’t be controversial.
- Although adolescence is a time when people evaluate what they once thought were their foundational beliefs (e.g., religion, sexuality, etc.), these topics are best avoided in an essay. You don’t want to offend your readers.
- A changed mindset equals changed actions.
- Your changed mindset should have prompted you to take new actions in your day-to-day life. How did you become a better person?
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?
The key phrase for this essay prompt is ‘in a surprising way.’ Readers will want to be entertained and informed.
- Use standard story structure.
- Readers will want to know about your life before/during/after the surprising event. Consider the event as your story’s climax.
- It’s okay not to be funny.
- You’d think that ‘surprising way’ would denote humor. That’s not always the case. Any kind of emotion can prompt a change of heart.
5) Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
Like with other prompts, the first thing you do is make a choice:
- Accomplishment: A positive thing you did.
- Event: A positive, neutral, or negative thing that you did or experienced.
- Realization: A change of thinking.
Once you have something in mind, consider whether it led to personal growth AND how you view other people.
- Stay positive.
- Although your event may be negative in nature, your essay needs a happy ending.
- Be specific.
- The prompt’s phrase ‘other people’ can be just one person. In fact, writing about how the accomplishment/event/realization affected your relationship with just one person encourages a stronger bond with your reader.
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?
Unlike previous prompts, topics, ideas, and concepts are pretty much the same thing. No need to break them down with bullet points.
- Get nerdy.
- ‘Passion’ is the key word for succeeding with this essay prompt. In your first draft, jot down every reason this topic/idea/concept enthralls you.
- Be conversational.
- Like some other essay prompts, it’s okay to think of your essay as a one-sided conversation. No need to be academic or formal.
- Branch out.
- The essay’s second part asks you to describe how your passion influenced you to learn more. Possibilities include learning a new language or picking up a new instrument. Maybe you read a ton of books on a subject before trying to write one of your own.
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.
‘Any topic of your choice’ is a double-edged sword if there ever was one. To be honest, I wouldn’t recommend this prompt to someone who doesn’t enjoy writing in their free time. However, let’s explore some…
- Be careful.
- There’s a lot of freedom here, but think of your audience – busy college admissions advisors who want to know what you can contribute to their school.
- Consider using a work sample.
- The phrase ‘already written’ gives you the chance to include an academic paper, one that does not go over any word count limit. Like with any piece of writing, have another person read it and provide feedback.
- Avoid controversy.
- Seems obvious, but worth repeating. Avoid any topics that might offend your readers.
There’s a lot to unpack concerning the 2021-22 Common App essay options. My advice – play around with a few of the prompts. Jot down ideas and see which one allows you to express yourself and make a positive impression. Over the summer, write a few drafts you can hone leading into this fall’s college admissions season.