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Get help writing your college application essays. Find this year's Common App writing prompts and popular essay questions used by individual colleges.
The college essay is your opportunity to show admissions officers who you are apart from your grades and test scores (and to distinguish yourself from the rest of a very talented applicant pool).
2023–24 Common App Essays
Nearly 700 colleges accept the The Common Application , which makes it easy to apply to multiple schools with just one form. If you are using the Common App to apply for college admissions, you will have 250–650 words to respond to ONE of the following prompts:
- 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 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?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- 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?
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- 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?
- 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.
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Tackling the Common App Essay Prompts
Prompt #1: share your story..
Answer this prompt by reflecting on a hobby, facet of your personality, or experience that is genuinely meaningful and unique to you. Admissions officers want to feel connected to you and an honest, personal statement about who you are draws them in. Your love of superheroes, baking chops, or family history are all fair game if you can tie it back to who you are or what you believe in. Avoid a rehash of the accomplishments on your high school résumé and choose something that the admissions committee will not discover when reading the rest of your application.
Prompt #2: Learning from obstacles.
You're trying to show colleges your best self, so it might seem counterintuitive to willingly acknowledge a time you struggled. But overcoming challenges demonstrates courage, grit, and perseverance! That’s why the last piece of this prompt is essential. The obstacle you write about can be large or small, but you must show the admissions committee how your perspective changed as a result.
Prompt #3: Challenging a belief.
Your answer to this question could focus on a time you stood up to others or an experience when your own preconceived view was challenged. Choose this prompt if you have a relevant—and specific!—experience to recount (and reflect on). A vague essay about a hot button issue doesn’t tell the admissions committee anything useful about YOU.
Prompt #4: Reflecting on gratitude.
Colleges are looking for students with unique experiences that can enhance their future campus community, and this is your chance to share that by recognizing what someone else has done for you. Even though this prompt requires you to reflect on the action of another person, make sure that the focus remains on how the act of kindness impacted you and the way you live your life. This essay should make you and the reader smile.
Prompt #5: Personal growth.
Just like Prompt #2, the accomplishment or event you write about can be anything from a major milestone to a smaller "aha" moment. Describe the event or accomplishment that shaped you but take care to also show what you learned or how you changed. Colleges are looking for a sense of maturity and introspection—pinpoint the transformation and demonstrate your personal growth.
Prompt #6: What captivates you?
This prompt is an invitation to write about something you care about. (So avoid the pitfall of writing about what you think will impress the admission office versus what truly matters to you). Colleges are looking for curious students, who are thoughtful about the world around them. The "what or who do you turn to when you want to learn more” bit isn't an afterthought—it's a key piece of the prompt. Make sure you explain how you pursue your interest, as well.
Read More: QUIZ: Test Your College Knowledge!
Prompt #7: Topic of your choice.
This question might be for you if you have a dynamo personal essay from English class to share or were really inspired by a question from another college’s application. You can even write your own question! Whatever topic you land on, the essentials of a standout college essay still stand: 1.) Show the admissions committee who you are beyond grades and test scores and 2.) Dig into your topic by asking yourself how and why. There isn’t a prompt to guide you, so you must ask yourself the questions that will get at the heart of the story you want to tell.
More College Essay Topics
Individual schools sometimes require supplemental essays. Here are a few popular application essay topics and some tips for how to approach them:
Describe a person you admire.
Avoid the urge to pen an ode to a beloved figure like Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln. The admissions committee doesn't need to be convinced they are influential people. Focus on yourself: Choose someone who has actually caused you to change your behavior or your worldview, and write about how this person influenced you .
Why do you want to attend this school?
Be honest and specific when you respond to this question. Avoid generalities like "to get a good liberal arts education” or “to develop career skills," and use details that show your interests: "I'm an aspiring doctor and your science department has a terrific reputation." Colleges are more likely to admit students who can articulate specific reasons why the school is a good fit for them beyond its reputation or ranking on any list. Use the college's website and literature to do your research about programs, professors, and other opportunities that appeal to you.
Read More: 5 Ways College Application Essays and High School Essays Are Different
What is a book you love?
Your answer should not be a book report. Don't just summarize the plot; detail why you enjoyed this particular text and what it meant to you. What does your favorite book reveal about you? How do you identify with it, and how has it become personal to you?
Again, be honest in answering this question—don't choose a classic from your literature class or a piece of philosophy just because you think it will make you seem smarter. Writing fluently and passionately about a book close to you is always better than writing shakily or generally about a book that doesn't inspire you.
What is an extracurricular activity that has been meaningful to you?
Avoid slipping into clichés or generalities. Take this opportunity to really examine an experience that taught you something you didn't previously know about yourself, got you out of your comfort zone, or forced you to grow. Sometimes it's better to write about something that was hard for you because you learned something than it is to write about something that was easy for you because you think it sounds admirable. As with all essay questions, the most important thing is to tell a great story: how you discovered this activity, what drew you to it, and what it's shown you about yourself.
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60+ College Essay Prompts From Actual 2023-2024 Applications
Ideas to inspire every college applicant.
Writing a college application essay can be a stressful task for a lot of students. The more practice they get in advance, the better! This roundup of college essay prompts gives applicants a chance to explore their thinking, polish their writing, and prepare to make the best possible impression on selection committees. Every one of these questions is taken from real college applications for the 2023-2024 season, so they’re meaningful and applicable to today’s high school seniors.
Common App 2023-2024 College Essay Prompts
2023-2024 coalition for college essay prompts, life experiences college essay prompts, personal college essay prompts, academics college essay prompts, creative college essay prompts.
Hundreds of colleges and universities use the Common App process . For many schools, this includes responding to one of several college essay topics, which can change each year. Here are the essay prompts for the current application cycle (check with your chosen school/s to see if an essay is required).
- 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 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?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- 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?
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- 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?
- 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.
More than 150 colleges and universities use the Coalition for College process . Here are their essay prompts for 2023-2024.
- Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
- What interests or excites you? How does it shape who you are now or who you might become in the future?
- Describe a time when you had a positive impact on others. What were the challenges? What were the rewards?
- Has there been a time when an idea or belief of yours was questioned? How did you respond? What did you learn?
- What success have you achieved or obstacle have you faced? What advice would you give a sibling or friend going through a similar experience?
- Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
Answer these questions by sharing specific examples from your own experience.
- Who is your favorite conversation partner? What do you discuss with that person?
- Discuss a time when reflection or introspection led to clarity or understanding of an issue that is important to you.
- Share an example of how you have used your own critical-thinking skills on a specific subject, project, idea, or interest.
- Describe a time when you were challenged by a perspective that differed from your own. How did you respond?
- What are the best words of advice you have received? Who shared them, and how have you applied them in your own life?
- Elaborate on an activity or experience you have had that made an impact on a community that is important to you.
- Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you.
- Who do you agree with on the big, important things, or who do you have your most interesting disagreements with? What are you agreeing or disagreeing about?
- Reflect on a personal experience where you intentionally expanded your cultural awareness.
- When was the last time you questioned something you had thought to be true?
- Discuss the significance to you of the school or summer activity in which you have been most involved.
- Reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.
- Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.
- Describe a time you did not meet expectations and what impact the experience had on you.
These essay topics give schools a better sense of who you are, what you value, and the kind of student citizen you might be.
- What drives you to create, and what do you hope to make or have you made?
- Which book, character, song, monologue, or piece of work (fiction or nonfiction) seems made for you? Why?
- What would you want your future college roommate to know about you?
- How has your own background influenced the types of problems you want to solve, the people you want to work with, and the impact you hope your work can have?
- Describe any meaningful travel experiences you’ve had.
- What would you want to be different in your own country or community to further principles of equality, equity, or social justice?
- What strength or quality do you have that most people might not see or recognize?
- If you could live your life fighting for one cause, what would it be and why?
- What gives meaning to your life?
- If you wrote a letter to yourself to be opened in 20 years, what would it say?
- If you had the power to change the course of history in your community or the world, what would you do and why?
- Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.
- What is the greatest compliment you have ever been given? Why was it meaningful to you?
- Explain how a text you’ve read—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or literature of any kind—has helped you to understand the world’s complexity.
Topics like these show your academic interests and demonstrate your commitment to learning and discovery.
- What does it mean to you to be educated?
- What is your motivation for pursuing higher education?
- Describe your reasons for wanting to attend the specific school you’re applying to. Who or what factored into your decision?
- Academic inquiry starts with bold questions. What are some of the bold questions you have pondered that get you excited, and why do they interest you?
- What has been your best academic experience in the last two years, and what made it so good?
- If you decide to take a “gap year” between high school and college, what would you do during that time?
- Many schools place a high value on diverse student populations. How can you contribute to and support a diverse and inclusive student population at your chosen school?
- Imagine you were just awarded a research grant for a project of your choice. What are you researching and why?
- What do you love about the subject(s) you selected as potential major(s)? If undecided, share more about one of your academic passions.
- Describe a time when you’ve felt empowered or represented by an educator.
- Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
Use these college essay topics to show off your creativity and innovative thinking.
- You are tasked with creating a new category for the Nobel Prize. Explain what it would be, why you chose your specific category, and the criteria necessary to achieve this accomplishment.
- Pick one person—a historical figure, fictitious character, or modern individual—to converse with for an hour, and explain your choice.
- If you could witness a historic event (past, present, or future) firsthand, what would it be and why?
- If you could have a theme song, what would it be and why?
- Discuss a book that you would call a “great book.” What makes the book great in your view?
- If you could give any historical figure any piece of technology, who and what would it be, and why do you think they’d work so well together?
- If I could travel anywhere, I would go to …
- My favorite thing about last Tuesday was …
- Write a short thank-you note to someone you have not yet thanked and would like to acknowledge.
- If you had 10 minutes and the attention of a million people, what would your TED Talk be about?
- What are your three favorite words in the English language? Explain what they mean to you.
- Imagine that you could have one superpower. What would it be and how would you use it? What would be your kryptonite?
- Which Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor (real or imagined) best describes you?
- If you could create a college course that all students would take, what would it be about and why?
- What website is the internet missing?
How do you help your students prepare their college application essays? Come share your ideas and ask for advice in the We Are Teachers HELPLINE group on Facebook .
Plus, check out the ultimate guide to college scholarships.
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What are the 2023-24 Common App essay prompts?
Jul 25, 2023 • knowledge, information, below is the full set of common app essay prompts for 2023-24..
- 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 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?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- 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?
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- 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?
- 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.
We will also retain the optional COVID-19 question within the Additional Information section.
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Writing Sample Essays
Write a unified, coherent essay about the increasing presence of intelligent machines. In your essay, be sure to:
- clearly state your own perspective on the issue and analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective
- develop and support your ideas with reasoning and examples
- organize your ideas clearly and logically
- communicate your ideas effectively in standard written English
Your essay perspective may be in full agreement with any of those given, in partial agreement, or completely different.
Get more information about preparing for the writing test .
Sample Test Questions
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19 College Essay Topics and Prompts
Not sure what to write for your college essay? We've got you covered with a number of topics and prompts to help shape your unique story.
As part of your college application materials, you'll likely be asked to submit a college essay. These tend to be between 250 and 650 words , and are a unique opportunity to showcase your personality. Admissions panels are typically looking for students who will positively represent the school as a whole. In the end, your goal is to show them that you and the college are a good match.
When drafting your college essay, you may be expected to answer a prompt or come up with a topic on your own. In this article, we've rounded up several ideas to get you thinking—and writing.
19 college essay topics
Each school sets different requirements around the college essay, so it's important to review the expectations around every application you intend to submit. Some give you creative freedom, while others expect you to respond to a pre-developed prompt. Either way, a strong college essay conveys to the admissions team who you are, why you want to attend that particular school, and what matters to you. It's a way to personalize an application that often focuses on quantitative data, such as GPA and SAT scores.
If you're given the creative freedom to write about whatever you want, consider a college essay topic that allows you to be honest and original. We've compiled the following ideas to help you brainstorm:
What's an important issue you care about? How have you gotten involved?
Have you changed your mind about something in recent years? What was it and why?
What's a situation that caused you to grow?
Explain a time when you failed. What did you learn from that moment?
Share a surprising pastime or hobby and what interested you about it.
What extracurricular activity are you involved in that speaks to your personality?
Detail a meaningful volunteer experience.
Dive into a meaningful travel experience.
Who do you most admire and why?
If you have a unique background, share a bit about it. How did you get where you are?
What's the best advice you've ever received?
Was there ever a time when you had to stand up for something—or someone?
What's something you might change about the world to make it better?
What do you hope to accomplish by attending college?
Is there something you want to do after graduating college?
Have you ever made or created something? Talk about it.
Do you have a big idea that could potentially impact your community?
What is most valuable to you? Dive into your values and share an example.
What are you most passionate about? Why?
Pre-developed college essay prompts
Some colleges and universities will give you a series of prompts to choose from. These will vary from school to school, and can either be questions or statements. Here are a few examples of both.
Sample question prompts:
What excites your intellectual curiosity?
How has your upbringing shaped the person you are today?
Sample statement prompts:
Talk about an unusual circumstance in your life
Share how you hope to use your college education
Discuss a list of books you have read in the last year
Common App essay prompts
Common App is an online platform designed to simplify the college application process. Over 900 colleges use Common App, making it possible for you to fill out one application that's then submitted to multiple schools.
If you choose to complete the Common App, you'll have a choice of several distinctive prompts that change every academic year. Here's a sample of the 2022-2023 essay prompts [ 1 ]:
Stick to the prompt.
No matter what type of prompt you receive, it's your job to stick to it. The admissions team has a lot of essays to read, so you'll have a better chance of standing out if you develop a cohesive response that stays on topic.
Start by identifying the prompt's main topic, then spend some time brainstorming to find the idea that resonates most with you. For many people, it's the topic that makes them feel some sort of emotion or reminds them of an entertaining story. Understanding what you're being asked to write about should make staying on topic throughout the entire composition easier.
5 additional college essay tips
Once you decide what you'd like to write, follow the tips below to craft a standout essay. You can also find more advice about college essays in our article College Essay Format: Writing and Editing Tips .
1. Be considerate with humor.
Showing off your sense of humor lets your personality show through your words and can make reading the essay more entertaining. Try including a few sentences that you think will bring a smile to the reader's face, or use adjectives to insert some colorful comedy.
2. Offer insight.
Beyond recounting an event, experience, or memory, a great essay shows insight aka an ability to highlight meaningful takeaways. For example, if you choose to write about your unique hobby, try to discuss what you've learned from that pastime—or how you've grown as a result of it.
3. Add details
Great essays also invite the reader to connect with the story on an emotional level. With that in mind, it can help to recount a specific memory rather than answer a prompt without those colorful details. More than discussing something on a surface level—or vaguely—you want to provide enough particulars to keep your readers engaged. For example, if you choose to write about the best advice you ever received, set the scene and take the reader back to that moment.
4. Have an editor.
Your essay should ideally be error-free. Ask a trusted friend or family member to review your essay and suggest edits. An editor can help you catch grammatical errors or points out ways to better develop your response.
Avoid passing your paper along to too many people, though, so you don't lose your own voice amid all of the edits and suggestions. The admissions team wants to get to know you through your writing and not your sister or best friend who edited your paper.
5. Revise your essay.
Your first draft is just that: a draft. Give yourself plenty of time to read and revise your first pass and make sure you fully developed your response, stayed on topic, and shared your personality.
When revising your essay, you may find it helpful to read it aloud so you hear the words as you're saying them. Some people prefer to print a copy on paper and write notes by hand. Both options give your brain a new way to process the information to catch details you may miss if you keep everything in your head and on the computer.
Watch to find out why the essay many admission counselor's favorite part of the application:
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Common App. " First-year essay prompts , https://www.commonapp.org/apply/essay-prompts." Accessed February 8, 2023.
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21 Stellar Common App Essay Examples to Inspire Your College Essay
What’s covered:, what makes a good common app essay, is your common app essay strong enough.
When you begin writing your Common App essay, having an example to look at can help you understand how to effectively write your college essay so that it stands apart from others.
These Common App essay examples demonstrate a strong writing ability and answer the prompt in a way that shows admissions officers something unique about the student. Once you’ve read some examples and are ready to get started, read our step-by-step guide for how to write a strong Common App essay.
Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized.
Read our Common App essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts.
The point of the Common App essay is to humanize yourself to a college admissions committee. The ultimate goal is to get them to choose you over someone else! You will have a better chance of achieving this goal if the admissions committee feels personally connected to you or invested in your story. When writing your Common App essay, you should explore your feelings, worldview, values, desires, and anything else that makes you uniquely you.
It’s Not Cliché
It is pretty easy to resort to clichés in college essays. This should be actively avoided! CollegeVine has identified the immigrant’s journey, sports injuries, and overcoming a challenging course as cliché topics . If you write about one of these topics, you have to work harder to stand out, so working with a more nuanced topic is often safer and easier.
Colleges want good writers. They want students who can articulate their thoughts clearly and concisely (and creatively!). You should be writing and rewriting your essays, perfecting them as you go. Of course, make sure that your grammar and spelling are impeccable, but also put in time crafting your tone and finding your voice. This will also make your essay more personal and will make your reader feel more connected to you!
Compelling Common App essays tell a cohesive story. Cohesion is primarily achieved through effective introductions and conclusions , which often contribute to the establishment of a clear theme or topic. Make sure that it is clear what you are getting at, but also don’t explicitly state what you are getting at—a successful essay speaks for itself.
Common App Essay Examples
Here are the current Common App prompts. Click the links to jump to the examples for a specific prompt, or keep reading to review the examples for all the prompts.
Prompt #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.
Prompt #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?
Prompt #3 : Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
Prompt #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? (NOTE: We only have an example for the old prompt #4 about solving a problem, not this current one)
Prompt #5 : Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
Prompt #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?
Prompt #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.
Note: Names have been changed to protect the identity of the author and subjects.
Prompt #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.
Prompt #1, example #1.
The room was silent except for the thoughts racing through my head. I led a spade from my hand and my opponent paused for a second, then played a heart. The numbers ran through my mind as I tried to consider every combination, calculating my next move. Finally, I played the ace of spades from the dummy and the rest of my clubs, securing the contract and 620 points when my partner ruffed at trick five. Next board.
It was the final of the 2015 United States Bridge Federation Under-26 Women’s Championship. The winning team would be selected to represent the United States in the world championship and my team was still in the running.
Contract bridge is a strategic and stochastic card game. Players from around the world gather at local clubs, regional events, and, in this case, national tournaments.
Going into the tournament, my team was excited; all the hours we had put into the game, from the lengthy midnight Skype sessions spent discussing boards to the coffee shop meetings spent memorizing conventions together, were about to pay off.
Halfway through, our spirits were still high, as we were only down by fourteen international match points which, out of the final total of about four hundred points, was virtually nothing and it was very feasible to catch up. Our excitement was short-lived, however, as sixty boards later, we found that we had lost the match and would not be chosen as the national team.
Initially, we were devastated. We had come so close and it seemed as if all the hours we had devoted to training had been utterly wasted. Yet as our team spent some time together reflecting upon the results, we gradually realized that the true value that we had gained wasn’t only the prospect of winning the national title, but also the time we had spent together exploring our shared passion. I chatted with the winning team and even befriended a few of them who offered us encouragement and advice.
Throughout my bridge career, although I’ve gained a respectable amount of masterpoints and awards, I’ve realized that the real reward comes from the extraordinary people I have met. I don’t need to travel cross-country to learn; every time I sit down at a table whether it be during a simple club game, a regional tournament or a national event, I find I’m always learning.
I nod at the pair that’s always yelling at each other. They teach me the importance of sportsmanship and forgiveness.
I greet the legally blind man who can defeat most of the seeing players. He reminds me not to make excuses.
I chat with the friendly, elderly couple who, at ages ninety and ninety-two, have just gotten married two weeks ago. They teach me that it’s never too late to start anything.
I talk to the boy who’s attending Harvard and the girl who forewent college to start her own company. They show me that there is more than one path to success.
I congratulate the little kid running to his dad, excited to have won his very first masterpoints. He reminds me of the thrill of every first time and to never stop trying new things.
Just as much as I have benefitted from these life lessons, I aspire to give back to my bridge community as much as it has given me. I aspire to teach people how to play this complicated yet equally as exciting game. I aspire to never stop improving myself, both at and away from the bridge table.
Bridge has given me my roots and dared me to dream. What started as merely a hobby has become a community, a passion, a part of my identity. I aspire to live selflessly and help others reach their goals. I seek to take risks, embrace all results, even failure, and live unfettered from my own doubt.
This student draws readers in with a strong introduction. The essay starts ambiguous—“I led with a spade”—then intrigues readers by gradually revealing more information and details. This makes the reader want to keep reading (which is super important!) As the writer continues, there is a rather abrupt tone shift from suspenseful to explanatory with statements like “It was the final of the 2015 United States Bridge Federation Under-26 Women’s Championship” and “Contract bridge is a strategic and stochastic card game.” If you plan to start with an imagery-heavy, emotional, suspenseful, or dramatic introduction, you will need to transition to the content of your essay in a way that does not feel abrupt.
You will often hear that essays need to “show, not tell.” This essay actually does both. First, the student tells readers the importance of bridge, saying “we gradually realized that the true value that we had gained wasn’t only the prospect of winning the national title, but also the time we had spent together exploring our shared passion” and “I’ve realized that the real reward comes from the extraordinary people I have met.” Then, the student shows the lessons they have learned from bridge through a series of parallel sentences: “I nod… sportsmanship and forgiveness” “I greet… not to make excuses” “I chat… it’s never too late to start anything” and so on. This latter strategy is much more effective than the former and is watered down because the student has already told us what we are supposed to get out of these sentences. Remember that your readers are intelligent and can draw their own conclusions. Avoid summarizing the moral of your story for them!
Overall, this essay is interesting and answers the prompt. We learn the importance of bridge to this student. The student has a solid grasp of language, a high-level vocabulary, and a valuable message, though they would be better off if they avoided summarizing their point and created more seamless transitions.
Prompt #1, Example #2
Growing up, I always wanted to eat, play, visit, watch, and be it all: sloppy joes and spaetzle, Beanie Babies and Steiff, Cape Cod and the Baltic Sea, football and fussball, American and German.
My American parents relocated our young family to Berlin when I was three years old. My exposure to America was limited to holidays spent stateside and awfully dubbed Disney Channel broadcasts. As the few memories I had of living in the US faded, my affinity for Germany grew. I began to identify as “Germerican,” an ideal marriage of the two cultures. As a child, I viewed my biculturalism as a blessing. I possessed a native fluency in “Denglisch” and my family’s Halloween parties were legendary at a time when the holiday was just starting to gain popularity outside of the American Sector.
Insidiously, the magic I once felt in loving two homes was replaced by a deep-rooted sense of rootlessness. I stopped feeling American when, while discussing World War II with my grandmother, I said “the US won.” She corrected me, insisting I use “we” when referring to the US’s actions. Before then, I hadn’t realized how directly people associated themselves with their countries. I stopped feeling German during the World Cup when my friends labeled me a “bandwagon fan” for rooting for Germany. Until that moment, my cheers had felt sincere. I wasn’t part of the “we” who won World Wars or World Cups. Caught in a twilight of foreign and familiar, I felt emotionally and psychologically disconnected from the two cultures most familiar to me.
After moving from Berlin to New York at age fifteen, my feelings of cultural homelessness thrived in my new environment. Looking and sounding American furthered my feelings of dislocation. Border patrol agents, teachers, classmates, neighbors, and relatives all “welcomed me home” to a land they could not understand was foreign to me. Americans confused me as I relied on Urban Dictionary to understand my peers, the Pledge of Allegiance seemed nationalistic, and the only thing familiar about Fahrenheit was the German after whom it was named. Too German for America and too American for Germany, I felt alienated from both. I wanted desperately to be a member of one, if not both, cultures.
During my first weeks in Scarsdale, I spent my free time googling “Berlin Family Seeks Teen” and “New Americans in Scarsdale.” The latter search proved most fruitful: I discovered Horizons, a nonprofit that empowers resettled refugees, or “New Americans,” to thrive. I started volunteering with Horizon’s children’s programs, playing with and tutoring young refugees.
It was there that I met Emily, a twelve-year-old Iraqi girl who lived next to Horizons. In between games and snacks, Emily would ask me questions about American life, touching on everything from Halloween to President Obama. Gradually, my confidence in my American identity grew as I recognized my ability to answer most of her questions. American culture was no longer completely foreign to me. I found myself especially qualified to work with young refugees; my experience growing up in a country other than that of my parents’ was similar enough to that of the refugee children Horizons served that I could empathize with them and offer advice. Together, we worked through conflicting allegiances, homesickness, and stretched belonging.
Forging a special, personal bond with young refugees proved a cathartic outlet for my insecurities as it taught me to value my past. My transculturalism allowed me to help young refugees integrate into American life, and, in doing so, I was able to adjust myself. Now, I have an appreciation of myself that I never felt before. “Home” isn’t the digits in a passport or ZIP code but a sense of contentedness. By helping a young refugee find comfort, happiness, and home in America, I was finally able to find those same things for myself.
Due to their endearing (and creative) use of language—with early phrases like “sloppy joes and spaetzle” as well as “Germerican” and “Denglisch”—readers are inclined to like this writer from the get-go. Though the essay shifts from this lighthearted introduction to more serious subject matter around the third paragraph, the shift is not abrupt or jarring. This is because the student invites readers to feel the transition with them through their inclusion of various anecdotes that inspired their “feelings of cultural homelessness.” And our journey does not end there—we go back to America with the student and see how their former struggles become strengths.
Ultimately, this essay is successful due to its satisfying ending. Because readers experience the student’s struggles with them, we also feel the resolution. The conclusion of this essay is a prime example of the “Same, but Different” technique described in our article on How to End Your College Essay . As the student describes how, in the end, their complicated cultural identity still exists but transitions to a source of strength, readers are left feeling happy for the student. This means that they have formed a connection with the student, which is the ultimate goal!
Prompt #1, Example #3
“1…2…3…4 pirouettes ! New record!” My friends cheered as I landed my turns. Pleased with my progress, I gazed down at my worn-out pointe shoes. The sweltering blisters, numbing ice-baths, and draining late-night practices did not seem so bad after all. Next goal: five turns.
For as long as I can remember, ballet, in all its finesse and glamor, had kept me driven day to day. As a child, the lithe ballerinas, donning ethereal costumes as they floated across the stage, were my motivation. While others admired Messi and Adele, I idolized Carlos Acosta, principal dancer of the Royal Ballet.
As I devoted more time and energy towards my craft, I became obsessed with improving my technique. I would stretch for hours after class, forcing my leg one inch higher in an effort to mirror the Dance Magazine cover girls . I injured my feet and ruined pair after pair of pointe shoes, turning on wood, cement, and even grass to improve my balance as I spun. At competitions, the dancers with the 180-degree leg extensions, endless turns, and soaring leaps—the ones who received “Bravos!” from the roaring audience—further pushed me to refine my skills and perfect my form. I believed that, with enough determination, I would one day attain their level of perfection. Reaching the quadruple- pirouette milestone only intensified my desire to accomplish even more.
My efforts seemed to have come to fruition two summers ago when I was accepted to dance with Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet at their renowned New York City summer intensive. I walked into my first session eager to learn from distinguished ballet masters and worldly dancers, already anticipating my improvement. Yet, as I danced alongside the accomplished ballerinas, I felt out of place. Despite their clean technique and professional training, they did not aim for glorious leg extensions or prodigious leaps. When they performed their turn combinations, most of them only executed two turns as I attempted four.
“Dancers, double- pirouettes only.”
Taken aback and confused, I wondered why our teacher expected so little from us. The other ballerinas seemed content, gracing the studio with their simple movements.
As I grew closer with my Moscow roommates, I gradually learned that their training emphasized the history of the art form instead of stylistic tricks. Rather than show off their physical ability, their performances aimed to convey a story, one that embodied the rich culture of ballet and captured both the legacy of the dancers before them and their own artistry. As I observed my friends more intently in repertoire class, I felt the pain of the grief-stricken white swan from Swan Lake , the sass of the flirtatious Kitri from Don Quijote, and I gradually saw what I had overlooked before. My definition of talent had been molded by crowd-pleasing elements—whirring pirouettes , gravity-defying leaps, and mind-blowing leg extensions. This mindset slowly stripped me from the roots of my passion and my personal connection with ballet.
With the Bolshoi, I learned to step back and explore the meaning behind each step and the people behind the scenes. Ballet carries history in its movements, from the societal values of the era to each choreographer’s unique flair. As I uncovered the messages behind each pirouette, kick, and jump, my appreciation for ballet grew beyond my obsession with raw athleticism and developed into a love for the art form’s emotive abilities in bridging the dancers with the audience. My journey as an artist has allowed me to see how technical execution is only the means to a greater understanding between dancer and spectator, between storyteller and listener. The elegance and complexity of ballet does not revolve around astonishing stunts but rather the evocative strength and artistry manifested in the dancer, in me. It is the combination of sentiments, history, tradition, and passion that has allowed ballet and its lessons of human connection to become my lifestyle both on and off stage.
The primary strength of this essay is the honesty and authenticity of the student’s writing. It is purposefully reflective. Intentional language creates a clear character arc that begins with an eager young ballerina and ends with the student reflecting on their past.
Readers are easily able to picture the passion and intensity of the young dancer through the writer’s engagement with words like “obsessed,” “forcing,” and “ruined” in the second paragraph. Then, we see how intensity becomes pride as they “wondered why our teacher expected so little from us.” And ultimately, we see the writer humbled as they are exposed to the deeper meaning behind what they have worked so hard for. This arc is outstanding, and the student’s musings about ballet in the concl usion position them as vulnerable and reflective (and thus, appealing to admissions officers!)
The main weakness of this essay (though this is a stellar essay) is its formulaic beginning. While dialogue can be an effective tool for starting your essay, this student’s introduction feels a bit stilted as the dialogue does not match the overall reflective tone of the essay. Perhaps, in place of “Next goal: five turns,” the student could have posed a question or foreshadowed the growth they ultimately describe.
Prompt #1, Example #4
My paintbrush dragged a flurry of acrylic, the rich colors attaching to each groove in my canvas’s texture. The feeling was euphoric.
From a young age, painting has been my solace. Between the stress of my packed high school days filled with classes and extracurriculars, the glide of my paintbrush was my emotional outlet.
I opened a fresh canvas and began. The amalgamation of assorted colors in my palette melded harmoniously: dark and light, cool and warm, brilliant and dull. They conjoined, forming shades and surfaces sharp, smooth, and ridged. The textures of my paint strokes — powdery, glossy, jagged — gave my painting a tone, as if it had a voice of its own, sometimes shrieking, sometimes whispering.
Rough indigo blue. The repetitive upward pulls of my brush formed layers on my canvas. Staring into the deep blue, I felt transported to the bottom of the pool I swim in daily. I looked upward to see a layer of dense water between myself and the person I aspire to be, an ideal blurred by filmy ripples. Rough blue encapsulates my amorphous, conflicting identity, catalyzed by words spewed by my peers about my “oily hair” and “smelly food”. They caused my ever present disdain toward cultural assemblies; the lehenga I wore felt burdensome. My identity quivers like the indigo storm I painted — a duel between my self-deprecating, validation-seeking self, and the proud self I desire to be. My haphazard paint strokes released my internal turbulence.
Smooth orange-hued green. I laid the color in melodious strokes, forming my figure. The warmer green transitions from the rough blue — while they share elements, they also diverge. My firm brushstrokes felt like the way I felt on my first day as a media intern at KBOO, my local volunteer-driven radio station, committed to the voices of the marginalized. As a naturally introverted speaker, I was forced out of my comfort zone when tasked with documenting a KBOO art exhibition for social media, speaking with hosts to share their diverse, underrepresented backgrounds and inspirations. A rhythmic green strength soon shoved me past internal blue turbulence. My communication skills which were built by two years of Speech and Debate unleashed — I recognized that making a social change through media required amplifying unique voices and perspectives, both my own and others. The powerful green strokes that fill my canvas entrench my growth.
Bright, voluminous coral, hinted with magenta and yellow. I dabbed the color over my figure, giving my painting dimension. The paint, speckled, added depth on every inch it coated. As I moved the color in random but purposeful movements, the vitality ushered into my painting brought a smile across my face. It reminded me of the encounters I had with my cubicle-mate in my sophomore year academic autism research internship, seemingly insignificant moments in my lifelong journey that, in retrospect, wove unique threads into my tapestry. The kindness she brought into work inspired my compassion, while her stories of struggling with ADHD in the workplace bolstered my empathy towards different experiences. Our conversations added blobs of a nonuniform bright color in my painting, binding a new perspective in me.
I added in my final strokes, each contributing an element to my piece. As I scanned my canvas, I observed these elements. Detail added nuance into smaller pictures; they embodied complexities within color, texture, and hue, each individually delivering a narrative. But together, they formed a piece of art— art that could be interpreted as a whole or broken apart but still delivering as a means of communication.
I find beauty in media because of this. I can adapt a complex narrative to be deliverable, each component telling a story. Appreciating these nuances — the light, dark, smooth, and rough — has cultivated my growth mindset. My life-long painting never finishes. It is ever-expanding, absorbing the novel textures and colors I encounter daily.
This essay is distinct from others due to its melodic, lyrical form. This is primarily achieved because the student’s form follows the movements of the paintbrush that they use to scaffold their essay. As readers, we simply flow through the essay, occasionally picking up bits of information about its creator. Without even realizing it, by the end of the essay, admissions officers will know that this student is a swimmer, was in Speech and Debate, is Indian, and has had multiple internships.
A major strength of this essay is the command of language that the student demonstrates. This essay was not simply written, it was crafted. Universities are, of course, interested in the talents, goals, and interests of applicants, but an essay being well-written can be equally important. Writing skills are important because your reader will not learn about your talents, goals, and interests if they aren’t engaged in your essay, but they are also important because admissions officers know that being able to articulate your thoughts is important for success in all future careers.
While this essay is well-written, there are a few moments where it falls out of the flow and feels more like a student advertising their successes. For example, the phrases “media intern at KBOO” and “autism research internship” work better on a resume than they do in this essay. Admissions officers have a copy of your resume and can check your internship experiences after reading your essay! If you are going to use a unique writing style or narrative form, lean into it; don’t try to hybridize it with the standard college essay form. Your boldness will be attractive to admissions officers.
Readers are easily able to picture the passion and intensity of the young dancer through the writer’s engagement with words like “obsessed,” “forcing,” and “ruined” in the second paragraph. Then, we see how intensity becomes pride as they “wondered why our teacher expected so little from us.” And ultimately, we see the writer humbled as they are exposed to the deeper meaning behind what they have worked so hard for. This arc is outstanding, and the student’s musings about ballet in the conclusion position them as vulnerable and reflective (and thus, appealing to admissions officers!)
Prompt #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?
Prompt #2, example #1.
“You ruined my life!” After months of quiet anger, my brother finally confronted me. To my shame, I had been appallingly ignorant of his pain.
Despite being twins, Max and I are profoundly different. Having intellectual interests from a young age that, well, interested very few of my peers, I often felt out of step in comparison with my highly-social brother. Everything appeared to come effortlessly for Max and, while we share an extremely tight bond, his frequent time away with friends left me feeling more and more alone as we grew older.
When my parents learned about The Green Academy, we hoped it would be an opportunity for me to find not only an academically challenging environment, but also – perhaps more importantly – a community. This meant transferring the family from Drumfield to Kingston. And while there was concern about Max, we all believed that given his sociable nature, moving would be far less impactful on him than staying put might be on me.
As it turned out, Green Academy was everything I’d hoped for. I was ecstatic to discover a group of students with whom I shared interests and could truly engage. Preoccupied with new friends and a rigorous course load, I failed to notice that the tables had turned. Max, lost in the fray and grappling with how to make connections in his enormous new high school, had become withdrawn and lonely. It took me until Christmas time – and a massive argument – to recognize how difficult the transition had been for my brother, let alone that he blamed me for it.
Through my own journey of searching for academic peers, in addition to coming out as gay when I was 12, I had developed deep empathy for those who had trouble fitting in. It was a pain I knew well and could easily relate to. Yet after Max’s outburst, my first response was to protest that our parents – not I – had chosen to move us here. In my heart, though, I knew that regardless of who had made the decision, we ended up in Kingston for my benefit. I was ashamed that, while I saw myself as genuinely compassionate, I had been oblivious to the heartache of the person closest to me. I could no longer ignore it – and I didn’t want to.
We stayed up half the night talking, and the conversation took an unexpected turn. Max opened up and shared that it wasn’t just about the move. He told me how challenging school had always been for him, due to his dyslexia, and that the ever-present comparison to me had only deepened his pain.
We had been in parallel battles the whole time and, yet, I only saw that Max was in distress once he experienced problems with which I directly identified. I’d long thought Max had it so easy – all because he had friends. The truth was, he didn’t need to experience my personal brand of sorrow in order for me to relate – he had felt plenty of his own.
My failure to recognize Max’s suffering brought home for me the profound universality and diversity of personal struggle; everyone has insecurities, everyone has woes, and everyone – most certainly – has pain. I am acutely grateful for the conversations he and I shared around all of this, because I believe our relationship has been fundamentally strengthened by a deeper understanding of one another. Further, this experience has reinforced the value of constantly striving for deeper sensitivity to the hidden struggles of those around me. I won’t make the mistake again of assuming that the surface of someone’s life reflects their underlying story.
Here is a prime example that you don’t have to have fabulous imagery or flowery prose to write a successful Common App essay. You just have to be clear and say something that matters. This essay is simple and beautiful. It almost feels like having a conversation with a friend and learning that they are an even better person than you already thought they were.
Through this narrative, readers learn a lot about the writer—where they’re from, what their family life is like, what their challenges were as a kid, and even their sexuality. We also learn a lot about their values—notably, the value they place on awareness, improvement, and consideration of others. Though they never explicitly state it (which is great because it is still crystal clear!), this student’s ending of “I won’t make the mistake again of assuming that the surface of someone’s life reflects their underlying story” shows that they are constantly striving for improvement and finding lessons anywhere they can get them in life.
The only part of this essay that could use a bit of work is the introduction. A short introduction can be effective, but this short first paragraph feels thrown in at the last minute and like it is missing its second half. If you are keeping your introduction short, make it matter.
Prompt #2, Example #2
Was I no longer the beloved daughter of nature, whisperer of trees? Knee-high rubber boots, camouflage, bug spray—I wore the garb and perfume of a proud wild woman, yet there I was, hunched over the pathetic pile of stubborn sticks, utterly stumped, on the verge of tears. As a child, I had considered myself a kind of rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge Lyme-free. I knew the cracks of the earth like the scars on my own rough palms. Yet here I was, ten years later, incapable of performing the most fundamental outdoor task: I could not, for the life of me, start a fire.
Furiously I rubbed the twigs together—rubbed and rubbed until shreds of skin flaked from my fingers. No smoke. The twigs were too young, too sticky-green; I tossed them away with a shower of curses, and began tearing through the underbrush in search of a more flammable collection. My efforts were fruitless. Livid, I bit a rejected twig, determined to prove that the forest had spurned me, offering only young, wet bones that would never burn. But the wood cracked like carrots between my teeth—old, brittle, and bitter. Roaring and nursing my aching palms, I retreated to the tent, where I sulked and awaited the jeers of my family.
Rattling their empty worm cans and reeking of fat fish, my brother and cousins swaggered into the campsite. Immediately, they noticed the minor stick massacre by the fire pit and called to me, their deep voices already sharp with contempt.
“Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” they taunted. “Having some trouble?” They prodded me with the ends of the chewed branches and, with a few effortless scrapes of wood on rock, sparked a red and roaring flame. My face burned long after I left the fire pit. The camp stank of salmon and shame.
In the tent, I pondered my failure. Was I so dainty? Was I that incapable? I thought of my hands, how calloused and capable they had been, how tender and smooth they had become. It had been years since I’d kneaded mud between my fingers; instead of scaling a white pine, I’d practiced scales on my piano, my hands softening into those of a musician—fleshy and sensitive. And I’d gotten glasses, having grown horrifically nearsighted; long nights of dim lighting and thick books had done this. I couldn’t remember the last time I had lain down on a hill, barefaced, and seen the stars without having to squint. Crawling along the edge of the tent, a spider confirmed my transformation—he disgusted me, and I felt an overwhelming urge to squash him.
Yet, I realized I hadn’t really changed—I had only shifted perspective. I still eagerly explored new worlds, but through poems and prose rather than pastures and puddles. I’d grown to prefer the boom of a bass over that of a bullfrog, learned to coax a different kind of fire from wood, having developed a burn for writing rhymes and scrawling hypotheses.
That night, I stayed up late with my journal and wrote about the spider I had decided not to kill. I had tolerated him just barely, only shrieking when he jumped—it helped to watch him decorate the corners of the tent with his delicate webs, knowing that he couldn’t start fires, either. When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.
This Common App essay is well-written. The student is showing the admissions officers their ability to articulate their points beautifully and creatively. It starts with vivid images like that of the “rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge Lyme-free.” And because the prose is flowery, the writer can get away with metaphors like “I knew the cracks of the earth like the scars on my own rough palms” that might sound cheesy without the clear command of the English language that the writer quickly establishes.
In addition to being well-written, this essay is thematically cohesive. It begins with the simple introduction “Fire!” and ends with the following image: “When the night grew cold and the embers died, my words still smoked—my hands burned from all that scrawling—and even when I fell asleep, the ideas kept sparking—I was on fire, always on fire.” This full-circle approach leaves readers satisfied and impressed.
While dialogue often comes off as cliche or trite, this student effectively incorporates their family members saying “Where’s the fire, Princess Clara?” This is achieved through the apt use of the verb “taunted” to characterize the questioning and through the question’s thematic connection to the earlier image of the student as a rustic princess. Similarly, rhetorical questions can feel randomly placed in essays, but this student’s inclusion of the questions “Was I so dainty?” and “Was I that incapable?” feels perfectly justified after they establish that they were pondering their failure.
Quite simply, this essay shows how quality writing can make a simple story outstandingly compelling.
Prompt #2, Example #3
The muffled voices behind thin walls heralded trouble.
They were fighting about money.
It wasn’t the first time this had happened and it wasn’t going to be the last. It was one of those countless nights I had to spend curled up under the blanket while pretending to be asleep. My father had been unemployed for five years now, and my mother, a local kindergarten teacher, was struggling to support the family alone. Our situation was bleak: Savings had run out and my parents could no longer hide our lack of money from me. To make matters worse, I was a few weeks away from starting high school, which would inevitably lead to college, yet another financial stressor for my family.
The argument didn’t sound like it would end soon.
“Why did you spend money on that?” my mother said, with an elongated sigh.
“I had to,” my father said, decidedly.
Every fight over the years had left me in despair and the idea of going through another fight daunted me. I had looked forward to my teen years all my life, an age that allows, for the first time, more responsibility. Indeed, after this fateful night, after my fourteenth birthday, I felt a mounting responsibility to help my family, and started brainstorming.
Always being fascinated by computers, I spent my childhood burying myself under computer cabinets, experimenting with computer parts. Naturally, I wondered if my skills in this area might be marketable.
The next morning, my friend, Naba, mentioned that her computer wasn’t working. A tuk-tuk ride later, and I was at her doorstep, and her mother was leading me to her room. I was off to work: I began examining her computer, like a surgeon carefully manages his scalpels and tools. A proper diagnosis was not far from reach, as I realized a broken pin in her computer’s SATA slot. After an hour of work, and a short trip to the hardware store, I successfully fixed the computer. To my pleasant surprise, Naba’s mother drew out two fresh 500 Rupee notes. One covered the cost of the parts I bought and the other was a token of appreciation. Bidding her goodbye, I went straight back home and put one of the 500 Rupee notes inside my family’s “savings-jar.”
Later that day, I devised a plan. I told my friends to spread the word that I was available to fix computers. At first, I got only one or two calls per week. I would pick up the computer from my client’s home, fix it quickly, and return it, thus earning myself a commission. While I couldn’t market my services at a competitive price, because I wasn’t able to buy the parts wholesale, I compensated by providing convenience. All my clients had to do was call me once and the rest was taken care of. Thus, my business had the best customer service in town.
At the beginning of my junior year, after two years of expanding my business through various avenues, I started buying computer parts from hardware suppliers in bulk at a cheaper rate. My business grew exponentially after that.
Before long, I was my town’s go-to tech person. In this journey throughout high school, I started realizing that I had to create my own opportunities and not just curl up under a blanket, seeking only comfort, as I used to. Interacting with people from all walks of life became my forte and a sense of work ethic developed in me. My business required me to be an all-rounder– have the technical skills, be an easily approachable person, and manage cash flow. Slowly becoming better at this, I even managed to sway admins of a local institution to outsource their computer hardware purchases and repairs through me. As my business upsized throughout the years, I went from being helpless to autonomous – the teenager I always aspired to be.
This essay truly feels like a story—almost making you forget you are reading a college essay. The student’s voice is strong throughout the entire essay and they are able to give us insight into their thoughts, feelings, and motivations at every step of the story. Letting the reader into personal challenges like financial struggles can be daunting in a college essay, but the way this student used that setback to establish an emotional ethos to their narrative was well done.
Because the essay is essentially just telling a story, there’s a very natural flow that makes it enjoyable and easy to read. The student establishes the conflict at the beginning, then describes their solution and how they implemented it, and finally concludes with the lessons they took away from this experience. Transitions at the beginning of paragraphs effortlessly show the passage of time and how the student has progressed through the story.
Another reason this essay is so successful is because of the abundance of details. The reader truly feels like they are hiding in the room with the student as their parents yell because of the inclusion of quotes from the argument. We understand the precision and care they have for fixing computers because of the allusion to a surgeon with their scalpel. Not only does this imagery make the story more enticing, it also helps the reader gain a deeper appreciation for the type of person this student is and the adversity they have overcome.
If there were one thing this essay could do to improve, it would be to include a resolution to the conflict from the beginning. The student tells us how this business helped them grow as a person, but we don’t ever get to find out if they were able to lessen the financial burden on their parents or if they continued to struggle despite the student working hard. It doesn’t have to be a happy ending, but it would be nice to return to the conflict and acknowledge the effect they had on it, especially since this prompt is all about facing challenges.
Prompt #3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
Prompt #3, example #1.
When I was younger, I was adamant that no two foods on my plate touch. As a result, I often used a second plate to prevent such an atrocity. In many ways, I learned to separate different things this way from my older brothers, Nate and Rob. Growing up, I idolized both of them. Nate was a performer, and I insisted on arriving early to his shows to secure front row seats, refusing to budge during intermission for fear of missing anything. Rob was a three-sport athlete, and I attended his games religiously, waving worn-out foam cougar paws and cheering until my voice was hoarse. My brothers were my role models. However, while each was talented, neither was interested in the other’s passion. To me, they represented two contrasting ideals of what I could become: artist or athlete. I believed I had to choose.
And for a long time, I chose athlete. I played soccer, basketball, and lacrosse and viewed myself exclusively as an athlete, believing the arts were not for me. I conveniently overlooked that since the age of five, I had been composing stories for my family for Christmas, gifts that were as much for me as them, as I loved writing. So when in tenth grade, I had the option of taking a creative writing class, I was faced with a question: could I be an athlete and a writer? After much debate, I enrolled in the class, feeling both apprehensive and excited. When I arrived on the first day of school, my teacher, Ms. Jenkins, asked us to write down our expectations for the class. After a few minutes, eraser shavings stubbornly sunbathing on my now-smudged paper, I finally wrote, “I do not expect to become a published writer from this class. I just want this to be a place where I can write freely.”
Although the purpose of the class never changed for me, on the third “submission day,” – our time to submit writing to upcoming contests and literary magazines – I faced a predicament. For the first two submission days, I had passed the time editing earlier pieces, eventually (pretty quickly) resorting to screen snake when hopelessness made the words look like hieroglyphics. I must not have been as subtle as I thought, as on the third of these days, Ms. Jenkins approached me. After shifting from excuse to excuse as to why I did not submit my writing, I finally recognized the real reason I had withheld my work: I was scared. I did not want to be different, and I did not want to challenge not only others’ perceptions of me, but also my own. I yielded to Ms. Jenkin’s pleas and sent one of my pieces to an upcoming contest.
By the time the letter came, I had already forgotten about the contest. When the flimsy white envelope arrived in the mail, I was shocked and ecstatic to learn that I had received 2nd place in a nationwide writing competition. The next morning, however, I discovered Ms. Jenkins would make an announcement to the whole school exposing me as a poet. I decided to own this identity and embrace my friends’ jokes and playful digs, and over time, they have learned to accept and respect this part of me. I have since seen more boys at my school identifying themselves as writers or artists.
I no longer see myself as an athlete and a poet independently, but rather I see these two aspects forming a single inseparable identity – me. Despite their apparent differences, these two disciplines are quite similar, as each requires creativity and devotion. I am still a poet when I am lacing up my cleats for soccer practice and still an athlete when I am building metaphors in the back of my mind – and I have realized ice cream and gummy bears taste pretty good together.
This essay is cohesive as it centers around the theme of identity and the ability for two identities to coexist simultaneously (an interesting theme!). It uses the Full Circle ending strategy as it starts with a metaphor about food touching and ends with “I have realized ice cream and gummy bears taste pretty good together.”
The main issue with this essay is that it could come off as cliché, which could be irritating for admissions officers. The story described is notably similar to High School Musical (“I decided to own this identity and embrace my friends’ jokes and playful digs, and over time, they have learned to accept and respect this part of me”) and feels slightly overstated.
At times, this essay is also confusing. In the first paragraph, it feels like the narrative is actually going to be about separating your food (and is somehow going to relate to the older brothers?). It is not entirely clear that this is a metaphor. Also, when the writer references the third submission day and then works backward to explain what a submission day is and that there are multiple throughout the semester, the timeline gets unnecessarily confusing. Reworking the way this paragraph unfolded would have been more compelling and less distracting.
Overall, this essay was interesting but could have been more polished to be more effective.
Prompt #3, Example #2
I walked into my middle school English class, and noticed a stranger behind my teacher’s desk. “Hello,” she said. “Today I will be your substitute teacher.” I groaned internally. “Let me start off by calling roll. Ally?” “Here!” exclaimed Ally. “Jack?” “Here.” “Rachel?” “Here.” “Freddie?” “Present.” And then– “…?” The awkward pause was my cue. “It’s Jasina,” I started. “You can just call me Jas. Here.” “Oh, Jasina. That’s unique.” The word “unique” made me cringe. I slumped back in my seat. The substitute continued calling roll, and class continued as if nothing had happened. Nothing had happened. Just a typical moment in a middle school, but I hated every second of it.
My name is not impossible to pronounce. It appears challenging initially, but once you hear it, “Jas-een-a”, then you can manage it. My nickname, Jas (pronounced “Jazz”), is what most people call me anyway, so I don’t have to deal with mispronunciation often. I am thankful that my parents named me Jasina (a Hebrew name), but whenever someone hears my name for the first time, they comment, and I assume they’re making assumptions about me. “Wow, Jas is a cool name.” She must be pretty cool.“I’ve never heard the name Jasina before.” She must be from somewhere exotic. “Jas, like Jazz?” She must be musical and artsy. None of these assumptions are bad, but they all add up to the same thing: She must be unique.
When I was little, these sentiments felt more like commands than assumptions. I thought I had to be the most unique child of all time, which was a daunting task, but I tried. I was the only kid in the second grade to color the sun red. I knew it was really yellow, but you could always tell which drawings were mine. During snack time, we could choose between apple juice and grape juice. I liked apple juice more, but if everyone else was choosing apple, then I had to choose grape. This was how I lived my life, and it was exhausting. I tried to continue this habit into middle school, but it backfired. When everyone became obsessed with things like skinny jeans and Justin Bieber and blue mascara (that was a weird trend), my resistance of the norm made me socially awkward. I couldn’t talk to people about anything because we had nothing in common. I was too different.
After 8th grade, I moved to Georgia, and I was dreading being the odd one out among kids who had grown up together. Then I discovered that my freshman year would be Cambridge High School’s inaugural year. Since there were students coming in from 5 different schools, there was no real sense of “normal”. I panicked. If there was no normal, then how could I be unique? That’s when I realized that I had spent so much energy going against the grain that I had no idea what my true interests were or what I really cared about.
It was time to find out. I stopped concentrating on what everyone else was doing and started to focus on myself. I joined the basketball team, I performed in the school musical, and I enrolled in Chorus, all of which were firsts for me. I took art classes, joined clubs, and did whatever I thought would make me happy. And it paid off. I was no longer socially awkward. In fact, because I was involved in so many unrelated activities, I was socially flexible. My friends and I had things in common, but there was no one who could say that I was exactly like anyone else. I had finally become my own person.
My father named me Jasina because he wanted my nickname to be “Jazz.” According to Webster, “jazz” is “music characterized by syncopated rhythms, improvisation, and deliberate distortions of pitch.” Basically, jazz is music that is off-beat and unpredictable. It cannot be strictly defined.
That sounds about right.
Right off the bat, this essay starts extremely strong. The description of attendance in a class with ample quotes, awkward pauses, and the student’s internal dialogue immediately puts us in the middle of the action and establishes a lot of sympathy for this student before we’ve learned anything else.
The strength of this essay continues into the second paragraph where the use of quotes, italics, and interjections from the student continues. All of these literary tools help the student express her voice and allow the reader to understand what this student goes through on a daily basis. Rather than just telling the reader people make assumptions about her name, she shows us what these assumptions look and sound like, and exactly how they make her feel.
The essay further shows us how the student approached her name by providing concrete examples of times she’s been intentionally unique throughout her life. Describing her drawing red suns and choosing grape juice bring her personality to life and allow her to express her deviance from the “norm” in a much more engaging and visual way than simply telling the reader she would go against the grain to be different on purpose.
One part of the essay that was a bit weaker than the others was the paragraph about her in high school. Although it was still well written and did a nice job of demonstrating how she got involved in multiple groups to find her new identity, it lacked the same level of showing employed in previous paragraphs. It would have been nice to see what “socially flexible” means either through a conversation she had with her friends or an example of a time she combined her interests from different groups in a way that was uniquely her.
The essay finishes off how it started: extremely strong. Taking a step back to fully explain the origin of her name neatly brings together everything mentioned in this essay. This ending is especially successful because she never explicitly states that her personality aligns with the definition of jazz. Instead, she relies on the points she has made throughout the essay to stick in the reader’s memory so they are able to draw the connection themselves, making for a much more satisfying ending for the reader.
Prompt #4 (OLD PROMPT; NOT THE CURRENT PROMPT): 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.
Prompt #4, example #1.
“Advanced females ages 13 to 14 please proceed to staging with your coaches at this time.”
Skittering around the room, eyes wide and pleading, I frantically explained my situation to nearby coaches. The seconds ticked away in my head; every polite refusal increased my desperation.
Despair weighed me down. I sank to my knees as a stream of competitors, coaches, and officials flowed around me. My dojang had no coach, and the tournament rules prohibited me from competing without one.
Although I wanted to remain strong, doubts began to cloud my mind. I could not help wondering: what was the point of perfecting my skills if I would never even compete? The other members of my team, who had found coaches minutes earlier, attempted to comfort me, but I barely heard their words. They couldn’t understand my despair at being left on the outside, and I never wanted them to understand.
Since my first lesson 12 years ago, the members of my dojang have become family. I have watched them grow up, finding my own happiness in theirs. Together, we have honed our kicks, blocks, and strikes. We have pushed one another to aim higher and become better martial artists. Although my dojang had searched for a reliable coach for years, we had not found one. When we attended competitions in the past, my teammates and I had always gotten lucky and found a sympathetic coach. Now, I knew this practice was unsustainable. It would devastate me to see the other members of my dojang in my situation, unable to compete and losing hope as a result. My dojang needed a coach, and I decided it was up to me to find one.
I first approached the adults in the dojang – both instructors and members’ parents. However, these attempts only reacquainted me with polite refusals. Everyone I asked told me they couldn’t devote multiple weekends per year to competitions. I soon realized that I would have become the coach myself.
At first, the inner workings of tournaments were a mystery to me. To prepare myself for success as a coach, I spent the next year as an official and took coaching classes on the side. I learned everything from motivational strategies to technical, behind-the-scenes components of Taekwondo competitions. Though I emerged with new knowledge and confidence in my capabilities, others did not share this faith.
Parents threw me disbelieving looks when they learned that their children’s coach was only a child herself. My self-confidence was my armor, deflecting their surly glances. Every armor is penetrable, however, and as the relentless barrage of doubts pounded my resilience, it began to wear down. I grew unsure of my own abilities.
Despite the attack, I refused to give up. When I saw the shining eyes of the youngest students preparing for their first competition, I knew I couldn’t let them down. To quit would be to set them up to be barred from competing like I was. The knowledge that I could solve my dojang’s longtime problem motivated me to overcome my apprehension.
Now that my dojang flourishes at competitions, the attacks on me have weakened, but not ended. I may never win the approval of every parent; at times, I am still tormented by doubts, but I find solace in the fact that members of my dojang now only worry about competing to the best of their abilities.
Now, as I arrive at a tournament with my students, I close my eyes and remember the past. I visualize the frantic search for a coach and the chaos amongst my teammates as we competed with one another to find coaches before the staging calls for our respective divisions. I open my eyes to the exact opposite scene. Lacking a coach hurt my ability to compete, but I am proud to know that no member of my dojang will have to face that problem again.
This essay is great because it has a strong introduction and a strong conclusion. The introduction is notably suspenseful and draws readers into the story. Because we know it is a college essay, we can assume that the student is one of the competitors, but at the same time, this introduction feels intentionally ambiguous as if the writer could be a competitor, a coach, a sibling of a competitor, or anyone else in the situation.
As we continue reading the essay, we learn that the writer is, in fact, the competitor. Readers also learn a lot about the student’s values as we hear their thoughts: “I knew I couldn’t let them down. To quit would be to set them up to be barred from competing like I was.” Ultimately, the conflict and inner and outer turmoil is resolved through the “Same, but Different” ending technique as the student places themself in the same environment that we saw in the intro, but experiencing it differently due to their actions throughout the narrative. This is a very compelling strategy!
The main weakness of this essay is that it is slightly confusing at times—how the other students found coaches feels unintentionally under-explained (a simple phrase like “through pleading and attracting sympathy” in the fourth paragraph could have served the writer well) and a dojang is never defined. Additionally, the turn of the essay or “volta” could’ve packed a bigger punch. It is put quite simply with “I soon realized that I would have become the coach myself.” A more suspenseful reveal could’ve served the author well because more drama did come later.
Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
Prompt #5, example #1.
Tears streamed down my face and my mind was paralyzed with fear. Sirens blared, but the silent panic in my own head was deafening. I was muted by shock. A few hours earlier, I had anticipated a vacation in Washington, D.C., but unexpectedly, I was rushing to the hospital behind an ambulance carrying my mother. As a fourteen-year-old from a single mother household, without a driver’s license, and seven hours from home, I was distraught over the prospect of losing the only parent I had. My fear turned into action as I made some of the bravest decisions of my life.
Three blood transfusions later, my mother’s condition was stable, but we were still states away from home, so I coordinated with my mother’s doctors in North Carolina to schedule the emergency operation that would save her life. Throughout her surgery, I anxiously awaited any word from her surgeon, but each time I asked, I was told that there had been another complication or delay. Relying on my faith and positive attitude, I remained optimistic that my mother would survive and that I could embrace new responsibilities.
My mother had been a source of strength for me, and now I would be strong for her through her long recovery ahead. As I started high school, everyone thought the crisis was over, but it had really just started to impact my life. My mother was often fatigued, so I assumed more responsibility, juggling family duties, school, athletics, and work. I made countless trips to the neighborhood pharmacy, cooked dinner, biked to the grocery store, supported my concerned sister, and provided the loving care my mother needed to recover. I didn’t know I was capable of such maturity and resourcefulness until it was called upon. Each day was a stage in my gradual transformation from dependence to relative independence.
Throughout my mother’s health crisis, I matured by learning to put others’ needs before my own. As I worried about my mother’s health, I took nothing for granted, cherished what I had, and used my daily activities as motivation to move forward. I now take ownership over small decisions such as scheduling daily appointments and managing my time but also over major decisions involving my future, including the college admissions process. Although I have become more independent, my mother and I are inseparably close, and the realization that I almost lost her affects me daily. Each morning, I wake up ten minutes early simply to eat breakfast with my mother and spend time with her before our busy days begin. I am aware of how quickly life can change. My mother remains a guiding force in my life, but the feeling of empowerment I discovered within myself is the ultimate form of my independence. Though I thought the summer before my freshman year would be a transition from middle school to high school, it was a transformation from childhood to adulthood.
This essay feels real and tells readers a lot about the writer. To start at the beginning, the intro is 10/10. It has drama, it has emotions, and it has the reader wanting more.
And, when you keep going, you get to learn a lot about a very resilient and mature student. Through sentences like “I made countless trips to the neighborhood pharmacy, cooked dinner, biked to the grocery store, supported my concerned sister, and provided the loving care my mother needed to recover” and “Relying on my faith and positive attitude, I remained optimistic that my mother would survive and that I could embrace new responsibilities,” the reader shows us that they are aware of their resilience and maturity, but are not arrogant about it. It is simply a fact that they have proven!
Sometimes writing about adversity can feel exploitative or oddly braggy. This student backs up everything they say with anecdotes that prove and show their strength and resilience, rather than just claiming their strengths. When I read this essay, I want to cheer for its writer! And I want to be able to continue cheering for them (perhaps, if I were an admissions officer, that would make me want them at my school!).
Prompt #5, Example #2
Armed with a red pen, I slowly walked across the room to a small, isolated table with pink stools. Swinging her legs, my young student beamed and giggled at me, slamming her pencil bag on the table and bending over to pick up one of her toys. Natalie always brought some new toy with her to lessons—toys which I would sternly take away from her and place under the table until she finished her work. At the tutoring center where I work, a strict emphasis on discipline leaves no room for paper crowns or rubber chickens.
Today, she had with her a large stuffed eagle from a museum. As she pulled out her papers, I slid the eagle to the other side of the table. She looked eagerly around, attempting to chat with other students as I impatiently called her attention to her papers. “I should name my eagle,” she chimed, waving her pencil in the air. I cringed—there was no wondering why Natalie always had to sit by herself. She was the antithesis of my academic values, and undoubtedly the greatest adversary of my teaching style.
As the lesson progressed, Natalie became more fitful; she refused to release her feathered friend, and kept addressing the bird for help with difficult problems. We both grew increasingly more frustrated. Determined to tame this wryly, wiggling student, I stood my ground, set on converting this disobedient child to my calm, measured ways of study.
As time slowly crept by, I noticed that despite Natalie’s cheerful tone and bright smile, the stuffed eagle was troublesomely quiet and stern-faced. Much like myself. Both the eagle and I were getting nowhere in this lesson—so we hatched a quick plan. Lifting the eagle up in the air, I started reading in my best impersonation of an eagle, squawking my way through a spelling packet. The result provided a sense of instant gratification I never knew I needed. She sang out every letter, clapped her hands at every page, and followed along with the eagle, stopping at every few letters to declare that “E is for eagle” and pet her teacher fondly on the beak.
Despite my ostensibly dissatisfied attitude toward my students, I did not join the tutoring center simply to earn money. I had always aspired to help others achieve their fullest potential. As a young adult, I felt that it was time for me to step out of the role of a pupil and into the influential role of a teacher, naively believing that I had the maturity and skill to adapt to any situation and help these students reach their highest achievements academically. For the most part, the role of a stern-faced, strict instructor helped me get by in the workplace, and while my students never truly looked happy, I felt that it was part of the process of conditioning a child to learn.
Ironically, my transition to adulthood was the result of a stuffed animal. It was indisputable that I always had the skill to instruct others; the only thing needed to instruct someone is knowledge of the subject. However, it was only upon being introduced to a stuffed bird in which I realized that students receive the most help not from instructors, but teachers. While almost anyone can learn material and spit it back out for someone, it takes the maturity and passion of a teacher not only to help students improve in their students, but also to motivate them and develop them into better citizens. From my young pupil and her little bird, I have undergone a change in attitude which reflects a growth in maturity and ability to improve the lives of others that I hope to implement in my future role as a student, activist, and physician. My newfound maturity taught me that the letter “e” stands for many things: empathy, experience, enthusiasm, and eagle.
In this essay, the student effectively explores their values (and how they learned them!) then identifies these values through a reflective conclusion. While the writer humbly recognizes the initial faults in their teaching style, they do not position their initial discipline or rigidity as mean or poorly intentioned—simply ineffective. This is important because, when you are discussing a transition like this, you don’t want admissions officers to think of you as having been a bad person.
My favorite part about this essay is its subtlety. The major shift in the essay comes through the simple sentence “The result provided a sense of instant gratification I never knew I needed.” The facts of this narrative are not too complicated. Simply put, the writer was strict then learned that it’s sometimes more effective not to be strict. The complexity of this narrative comes through reflection. Notably, through the ending, the student identifies their values (which they hadn’t given a name to before): “it takes the maturity and passion of a teacher not only to help students improve in their students, but also to motivate them and develop them into better citizens.”
The final sentence of this essay ties things up very nicely. Readers are left satisfied with the essay and convinced that its writer is a kind human with a large capacity for reflection and consideration. That is a great image to paint of yourself!
Prompt #5, Example #3
When it’s quiet, I can still hear the Friday night gossip and giggles of my friends. It’s a stark contrast from the environment I’ve known all my life, my home. My family has always been one to keep to themselves; introverts with a hard-working mentality—my father especially. He spent most of his time at work and growing up without him around, I came to be at peace with the fact that I’d probably never really get to know him. The thought didn’t bother me at the time because I felt that we were very different. He was stoic and traditional; I was trying to figure out who I was and explore my interests. His disapproval of the American music I listened to and my penchant for wearing hand-me-downs made me see him as someone who wanted to restrain my individuality. That explains why I relied heavily on my friends throughout middle and high school; they liked me for who I was. I figured I would get lonely without my friends during quarantine, but these last few months stuck at home gave me the time to make a new friend: my father.
It was June. I had the habit of sleeping with my windows open so I wouldn’t need to set an alarm; the warmth of the sun and the sounds of the neighborhood children playing outside would wake me. One morning, however, it was not the chirping of birds or the laughter of children I awoke to, but the shrill of a saw. Through the window screen, on the grass below, my father stood cutting planks of wood. I was confused but didn’t question him—what he did with his time was none of my business. It was not until the next day, when I was attempting to work on a sculpture for an art class, that the sounds of hammering and drills became too much to ignore. Seeking answers, I trudged across my backyard towards the corner he was in. On that day, all there was to see was the foundation of what he was building; a shed. My intrigue was replaced with awe; I was impressed by the precision of his craft. Sharp corners, leveled and sturdy, I could imagine what it would look like when the walls were up and the inside filled with the tools he had spread around the yard.
Throughout the week, when I was trying to finish my sculpture for art class—thinking about its shape and composition—I could not help but think of my father. Art has always been a creative outlet for me, an opportunity to express myself at home. For my dad, his craftsmanship was his art. I realized we were not as different as I had thought; he was an artist like me. My glue and paper were his wood and nails.
That summer, I tried to spend more time with my dad than I have in all my 18 years of life. Waking up earlier than usual so we could have our morning coffees together and pretending to like his favorite band so he’d talk to me about it, I took advantage of every opportunity I had to speak with him. In getting to know him, I’ve recognized that I get my artistry from him.
Reflecting on past relationships, I feel I am now more open to reconnecting with people I’ve perhaps misjudged. In reconciling, I’ve realized I held some bitterness towards him all these years, and in letting that go, my heart is lighter. Our reunion has changed my perspective; instead of vilifying him for spending so much time at work, I can appreciate how hard he works to provide for our family. When I hear him tinkering away at another home project, I can smile and look forward to asking him about it later.
This is an outstanding example of the great things that can be articulated through a reflective essay. As we read the essay, we are simply thinking alongside its author—thinking about their past relationship with their father, about their time in quarantine, about aspects of themselves they think could use attention and growth.
While we reflect, we are also centered by the student’s anecdote about the sculpture and the shed during quarantine. By centering us in real-time, the student keeps us engaged in the reflection.
The main strength here is the maturity we see on the part of its writer. The student doesn’t say “and I realized my father was the best dad in the world;” they say “and I realized my father didn’t have to be the best dad in the world for me to give him a chance.” Lots of students show themselves as motivated, curious, or compassionate in their college essays, but a reflective essay that ends with a discussion of resentment and forgiveness shows true maturity.
Prompt #5, Example #4
As a wide-eyed, naive seven-year-old, I watched my grandmother’s rough, wrinkled hands pull and knead mercilessly at white dough until the countertop was dusted in flour. She steamed small buns in bamboo baskets, and a light sweetness lingered in the air. Although the mantou looked delicious, their papery, flat taste was always an unpleasant surprise. My grandmother scolded me for failing to finish even one, and when I complained about the lack of flavor she would simply say that I would find it as I grew older. How did my adult relatives seem to enjoy this Taiwanese culinary delight while I found it so plain?
During my journey to discover the essence of mantou, I began to see myself the same way I saw the steamed bun. I believed that my writing would never evolve beyond a hobby and that my quiet nature crippled my ambitions. Ultimately, I thought I had little to offer the world. In middle school, it was easy for me to hide behind the large personalities of my friends, blending into the background and keeping my thoughts company. Although writing had become my emotional outlet, no matter how well I wrote essays, poetry, or fiction, I could not stand out in a sea of talented students. When I finally gained the confidence to submit my poetry to literary journals but was promptly rejected, I stepped back from my work to begin reading from Whitman to Dickinson, Li-Young Lee to Ocean Vuong. It was then that I realized I had been holding back a crucial ingredient–my distinct voice.
Over time, my taste buds began to mature, as did I. Mantou can be flavored with pork and eggplant, sweetened in condensed milk, and moistened or dried by the steam’s temperature. After I ate the mantou with each of these factors in mind, I noticed its environment enhanced a delicately woven strand of sweetness beneath the taste of side dishes: the sugar I had often watched my grandmother sift into the flour. The taste was nearly untraceable, but once I grasped it I could truly begin to cherish mantou. In the same way the taste had been lost to me for years, my writer’s voice had struggled to shine through because of my self-doubt and fear of vulnerability.
As I acquired a taste for mantou, I also began to strengthen my voice through my surrounding environment. With the support of my parents, peer poets, and the guidance of Amy Tan and the Brontё sisters, I worked tirelessly to uncover my voice: a subtle strand of sweetness. Once I stopped trying to fit into a publishing material mold and infused my uninhibited passion for my Taiwanese heritage into my writing, my poem was published in a literary journal. I wrote about the blatant racism Asians endured during coronavirus, and the editor of Skipping Stones Magazine was touched by both my poem and my heartfelt letter. I opened up about being ridiculed for bringing Asian food to school at Youth Leadership Forum, providing support to younger Asian-American students who reached out with the relief of finding someone they could relate to. I embraced writing as a way to convey my struggle with cultural identity. I joined the school’s creative writing club and read my pieces in front of an audience, honing my voice into one that flourishes out loud as well.
Now, I write and speak unapologetically, falling in love with a voice that I never knew I had. It inspires passion within my communities and imparts tenacity to Asian-American youth, rooting itself deeply into everything I write. Today, my grandmother would say that I have finally unearthed the taste of mantou as I savor every bite with a newfound appreciation. I can imagine her hands shaping the dough that has become my voice, and I am eager to share it with the world.
This essay is structurally-sound, with the student’s journey learning to savor mantou and their journey trying to find their voice serving as outstanding parallels. Additionally, as they describe the journey to find a voice in their writing, they definitely show off their voice! The clear introduction provides a great image and draws us in with an intriguing question. Additionally, their little inserts like “a strand of sweetness” and “falling in love with a voice that I never knew I had” work very well.
When the student describes their first published poem, however, their writing gets a little more stilted. This is a common error students make when writing about their achievements. If this student is writing about the craft that goes into writing, we should hear the details of the craft that went into the poem, instead of simply learning that they “opened up about being ridiculed for bringing Asian food to school at Youth Leadership Forum.” This is interesting information but would be stronger if it were supplemented by descriptions of the voice they created, comparisons to the styles of other poets, and analysis of their stylistic choices. This would make the essay feel more cohesive, centering entirely around concepts of voice and style.
Prompt #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?
Note: We don’t have a stellar example for this prompt, so instead, we’re sharing a couple examples that need improvement, and what can be done to make the essays more engaging.
Prompt #6, Example #1
What factors shape the depth and allure of a literary character? This is the exact question I asked myself as my eyes riveted on the white pages covered with little black letters.
I was reading my old novels. I’ve written three novels and many short stories. Each of them repetitively portrayed the hero as intelligent and funny, and the antagonists as cold and manipulative. I came to the appalling realization that my characters were flat, neither exciting nor original. They just didn’t stand out!
As Oscar Wilde said, ‘Vice and virtue are to the artist material to an art.’ Their mixing makes a novel addictive because its plot is rich with turnarounds and its characters more engaging. In his famous work The Picture of Dorian Gray , Wilde deconstructs the psyche of his characters. He brilliantly plays with the protagonist’s youthful appearance and the decaying portrait to build a truly unique idiosyncratic identity. The persona of Dorian Gray is so complicated a psychologist could analyze it for hours on end!
Inspired by this character, It was my turn to explore good and evil into characters to make my stories more enthralling. I skillfully played with vice and virtue, separating, merging them… My latest novel is the fruit of this exercise. I chose to set it in 20th century London. Its opium dens and exclusive salons; middle-class workers, peasants and politicians breathed the same newly industrialized air; modernity in Blackfriars bridge and tradition in St Paul’s Cathedral; all of these contrasts set the perfect environment for my characters to grow. Following Laclos’ Valmont, Maupassant’s Georges Duroy and Duffy’s Myra Hindley, I played with those contrasts to present an intricate character, truly creative – unlike my previous ones. Insanity, religion, depravity and love are merged into each character, reflecting Edwardian London. As I reflected on my work, I realized vice and virtue altogether made them more human and credible. These characters stood out, they were interesting, I even wanted to know more about them!
After rewriting, erasing, typing, and thinking countless times, I realized writing is a unique exercise. Nothing is definite when you are holding a fountain pen, hearing its screeching sound on the white paper and watching the ebony ink forming letters. When I wasn’t too happy about a change I made in my story, I simply erased and rewrote it. Everything I imagined could happen: white pages are the only place the mouse eats the cat or the world is taken by a zombie attack!
This exact exercise of diversifying my characters satisfied my relentless curiosity. Asking myself ‘how could this character be if she had lost her parents in a maritime tragedy?’ allowed me to view the world from different perspectives (some very dissimilar to my own) and considering how each character would react to different situations brought them to life. As I was writing, I was aiming to change the usual narratives I had previously traversed. I loved experimenting with countless personality traits in my characters – minutes flowing, my hand dancing on the paper as my mind was singing words coming alive….
There were times where my hand just stopped writing and my mind stopped raging. I tried thinking differently, changing a character’s background, the story, the setting. I was inspired by Zola, A.Carter, Fitzgerald, the Brontë sisters… I could observe the different reactions of their characters, and reflect on mine theoretically. But it was only part one of the work: I then had to write, sometimes aimlessly, sometimes frantically, always leading to fresh ideas – I was exploring the practical, trying, erasing and rewriting. Both theory and practice are required to gain intellectual independence and experience, in writing and more globally: before I can change a character, I have to understand it. Before we can change the world, we have to understand it.
The main strength of this essay is the authenticity of the topic the student chose. They aren’t making anything up or stretching the truth. Writing is something that captivates them, and that captivation shines through—particularly through their fourth paragraph (where they geek out over specific plots and characters) and their fifth paragraph (where they joyfully describe how writing has no limitations). Admissions officers want to see this passion and intensity in applicants! The fact that this student has already written three novels also shows dedication and is impressive.
The main weakness of this essay is its structure. Ironically, it is not super captivating. The essay would have been more compelling if the student utilized a “anecdote – answer – reflection” structure. This student’s current introduction involves a reflective question, citations about their past writing experience, then their thoughts on Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray. Instead, this student could’ve provided one cohesive (and powerful!) image of them being frustrated with their own writing then being inspired by Dorian Gray. This would look something like:
“I stayed up three nights in a row studying my own writing—bored by my own writing. The only thing more painful than seeing failure in the fruits of your labor is not seeing a path for improvement. I had written three novels and numerous short stories, and all I could come up with was funny and intelligent heroes going up against cold and manipulative villains. What kind of writer was so consistently cliche? On the third night, I wandered over to my bookshelf. Mrs. Dalloway caught my eye (it has such a beautiful cover). I flipped through. Then, I grabbed Giovanni’s Room . I was so obsessed with my shortcomings that I couldn’t even focus long enough to see what these authors were doing right. I picked up The Picture of Dorian Gray and decided to just start reading. By the end of the night, I was captivated.”
An introduction like this would flow nicely into the student describing their experience with Dorian Gray then, because of that experience, describing how they have altered their approach to writing. The conclusion of this essay would then be this student’s time for reflection. Instead of repeating content about their passion—“I then had to write, sometimes aimlessly, sometimes frantically” and “I was exploring the practical, trying, erasing and rewriting”—, the student could dedicate their conclusion to reflecting on the reasons that writing is so captivating or the ways that (until the day they die) writers will always be perfecting their craft.
This essay is a great example of how important it is to pick a topic that truly excites you. It also illustrates how important it is to effectively structure that excitement.
Prompt #6, Example #2
Astonished by the crashing sound of waves in my ear, I was convinced this magical shell actually held the sound of the big blue sea — my six-year-old self was heartbroken when I couldn’t take the thirty-dollar artificial shell from SeaWorld’s gift shop . It distinctly reminded me of the awestruck feeling I had when I witnessed the churning waves of a windy night by the ocean the previous weekend; I lost track of time gazing at the distant moonlit border dividing our world from the ever-growing black void. Turning to my mom, I inquired curiously, “Can we go to the place where the water ends one day?”
She explained to me I could never reach the end of the ocean because the harsh line I had seen was actually an illusion called the horizon — there was no material end to the ocean. For a mind as young as mine was, the idea of infinity was incomprehensible. As my infatuation with the ocean continued to grow, I finally understood that regardless of how far I travel, the horizon is unattainable because it’s not a physical limit. This idea is why the ocean captivates me — no matter how much you discover, there is always more to explore.
Learning about and exploring the ocean provided an escape from one reality into another; though we are on the same planet, it’s an entirely separate world. Through elementary and middle school, I devoted vast amounts of my free time to learning about simpler concepts like a dolphin’s ability to echolocate and coral reef ecosystems. I rented countless documentaries and constantly checked out books from my local library — my all-time favorite was an episode of the television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey titled “The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth.” This episode remained memorable because it was centered around the impacts of fossil fuels on marine animals; it was the first time I’d learned about the impending crisis we are faced with due to the human mistreatment of our planet.
Prior to viewing that episode, I relied on the ocean as an outlet — I fueled all of my emotions into studying marine organisms. Once I learned of its grave future, I delved into the world of environmental activism. This path was much more disheartening than studying echolocation — inevitable death due to climate change took a toll on my mental health. I attended two climate strikes in November of my sophomore year. Following the strikes, I joined Sunrise Movement Sacramento, a youth-led climate justice organization advocating for the Green New Deal. While analyzing legislation and organizing protests were significant takeaways from my experience with climate activism, they were not the most important. I became an organizer because of my love for the ocean and I remain an organizer because of my passion for dissolving the disproportionalities marginalized groups face due to the sacrificing of people’s livelihood for the sake of profit. The more I learned about our modern society, the more hopeless I grew that I could see any significant change within my lifetime.
However, this hopelessness comes in waves; every day, I remind myself of the moment I discovered the horizon. Or the moment I first dove into the beautiful waters of the Hawaiian coast and immediately was surrounded by breathtaking seas of magnificent creatures and coral gardens — life felt ethereal and beautiful. I remind myself that like the ocean, the vast majority of the universe has yet to be discovered; that distant border holds infinite opportunity to learn. In a universe as vast as ours, and life as rare as ours, individuals still choose to prioritize avarice over our planet. Despite this grave individualism, the ocean reminds me every day there is hope in the fight for a better world. Though I will never discover every inch of the ocean’s floor, I will forever envision and reach for new horizons.
Sometimes the path to a great essay is taking something normal and using it to show admissions officers who you are and what you value—that is precisely this student’s approach! Finding the ocean fascinating is not unique to this student. Tons of kids (and adults, too!) are obsessed with the ocean. What this student does is take things a step further as they explain their curiosity about the ocean in relation to their pain about the destruction of the environment. This capacity for reflection is great!
This student shows a good control of language through their thematic centering on ocean and horizons that carries through their essay—with ”this hopelessness comes in waves” and “I will forever envision and reach for new horizons.” The details provided throughout are also effective at keeping readers engaged—things like “ my six-year-old self was heartbroken when I couldn’t take the thirty-dollar artificial shell from SeaWorld’s gift shop” and “ my all-time favorite was an episode of the television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey titled “The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth.”
The main weakness of this essay is the lack of reflection when the student discusses environmental activism. There’s reflection on the student’s connection to the ocean and horizons at the beginning and at the end, but when the student discusses activism, the tone shifts from focusing on their internal thoughts to their external actions. Remember, a lot of students write about environmental activism, but not a lot of students write about an emotional connection to the ocean as an impetus for environmental activism. This student would stand out more to admissions officers if they had dug into questions of what the ocean means to them (and says about them) in the paragraphs beginning “Learning about and exploring the ocean…” and “Prior to viewing that episode.”
Prompt #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.
Prompt #7, example #1.
Scalding hot water cascades over me, crashing to the ground in a familiar, soothing rhythm. Steam rises to the ceiling as dried sweat and soap suds swirl down the drain. The water hisses as it hits my skin, far above the safe temperature for a shower. The pressure is perfect on my tired muscles, easing the aches and bruises from a rough bout of sparring and the tension from a long, stressful day. The noise from my overactive mind dies away, fading into music, lyrics floating through my head. Black streaks stripe the inside of my left arm, remnants of the penned reminders of homework, money owed and forms due.
It lacks the same dynamism and controlled intensity of sparring on the mat at taekwondo or the warm tenderness of a tight hug from my father, but it’s still a cocoon of safety as the water washes away the day’s burdens. As long as the hot water is running, the rest of the world ceases to exist, shrinking to me, myself and I. The shower curtain closes me off from the hectic world spinning around me.
Much like the baths of Blanche DuBois, my hot showers are a means of cleansing and purifying (though I’m mostly just ridding myself of the germs from children at work sneezing on me). In the midst of a hot shower, there is no impending exam to study for, no newspaper deadline to meet, no paycheck to deposit. It is simply complete and utter peace, a safe haven. The steam clears my mind even as it clouds my mirror.
Creativity thrives in the tub, breathing life into tales of dragons and warrior princesses that evolve only in my head, never making their way to paper but appeasing the childlike dreamer and wannabe author in me all the same. That one calculus problem that has seemed unsolvable since second period clicks into place as I realize the obvious solution. The perfect concluding sentence to my literary analysis essay writes itself (causing me to abruptly end my shower in a mad dash to the computer before I forget it entirely).
Ever since I was old enough to start taking showers unaided, I began hogging all the hot water in the house, a source of great frustration to my parents. Many of my early showers were rudely cut short by an unholy banging on the bathroom door and an order to “stop wasting water and come eat dinner before it gets cold.” After a decade of trudging up the stairs every evening to put an end to my water-wasting, my parents finally gave in, leaving me to my (expensive) showers. I imagine someday, when paying the water bill is in my hands, my showers will be shorter, but today is not that day (nor, hopefully, will the next four years be that day).
Showers are better than any ibuprofen, the perfect panacea for life’s daily ailments. Headaches magically disappear as long as the water runs, though they typically return in full force afterward. The runny nose and itchy eyes courtesy of summertime allergies recede. Showers alleviate even the stomachache from a guacamole-induced lack of self-control.
Honestly though, the best part about a hot shower is neither its medicinal abilities nor its blissful temporary isolation or even the heavenly warmth seeped deep into my bones. The best part is that these little moments of pure, uninhibited contentedness are a daily occurrence. No matter how stressful the day, showers ensure I always have something to look forward to. They are small moments, true, but important nonetheless, because it is the little things in life that matter; the big moments are too rare, too fleeting to make anyone truly happy. Wherever I am in the world, whatever fate chooses to throw at me, I know I can always find my peace at the end of the day behind the shower curtain.
This essay is relatable yet personal! The writer makes themself supremely human through discussing the universal subject of showering. That being said, an essay about showering could easily turn boring while still being relatable. This writer keeps its relatable moments interesting and fun through vivid descriptions of common feelings including “causing me to abruptly end my shower in a mad dash to the computer before I forget it entirely” and “the stomachache from a guacamole-induced lack of self-control.”
While describing a universal feeling, this student also cleverly and intentionally mentions small facts about their life through simple phrases like “I’m mostly just ridding myself of the germs from children at work sneezing on me” and “the childlike dreamer and wannabe author in me.” To put it simply, though we are talking about a shower, we learn about so much more!
And, at the end, the student lets us know that that is exactly why they love showers. Showers are more than meets the eye! With this insightful and reflective ending (“the big moments are too rare, too fleeting to make anyone truly happy”), readers learn about this student’s capacity for reflection, which is an important capacity as you enter college.
The one major error that this writer commits is that of using a trite transition. The inclusion of “Honestly though” at the beginning of this student’s ending detracts from what they are trying to say and sticks out in their writing.
Prompt #7, Example #2
Steam whooshed from the pot as I unveiled my newest creation: duck-peppercorn-chestnut dumplings. The spicy, hearty aroma swirled into the kitchen, mingling with the smell of fresh dough. Grinning, I grabbed a plump dumpling with chopsticks, blew carefully, and fed it into the waiting mouth of my little sister. Her eyes widening, she vigorously nodded and held up five stubby fingers. I did a little happy dance in celebration and pulled my notebook out of my apron pocket. Duck-peppercorn-chestnut: five stars.
In my household, dumplings are a far cry from the classic pork and cabbage. Our menu boasts everything from the savory lamb-bamboo shoot-watercress to the sweet and crispy apple-cinnamon-date. A few years ago, my sister claimed she was sick of eating the same flavors over and over. Refusing to let her disavow our family staple, I took her complaint as a challenge to make the tastiest and most unconventional dumplings to satisfy her. With her as my taste tester and Mum in charge of dough, I spent months experimenting with dozens of odd ingredient combinations.
During those days spent covered in flour, my dumplings often reminded me of myself—a hybrid of ingredients that don’t usually go together. I am the product of three distinct worlds: the suburbs of Boston, the rural Chinese village of [location removed], and the coastal city of [location removed]. At school, I am both the STEM nerd with lightning-fast mental math and the artistic plant mom obsessed with funky earrings. I love all that is elegant, from Chinese calligraphy to the rolling notes of the Gourd flute, yet I can be very not elegant, like when my sister and I make homemade slime. When I’m on the streets, marching for women’s rights and climate action, I’m loud, bellowing from the bottom of my gut. In the painting studio, though, I don’t speak unless spoken to, and hours can slip by like minutes. I’m loud and quiet. Elegant and messy. Nerdy and artistic. Suburban, rustic, and metropolitan.
While I’m full of odd combinations, they are only seemingly contradictory. Just as barbeque pork and pineapple can combine beautifully in a dumpling wrapper, different facets of my identity also converge. After my tenth-grade summer, when I spent six weeks studying design at art school and another three researching the brain at Harvard Med, I began asking myself: What if I mixed art and neuroscience together? That fall, I collaborated with my school’s art museum for an independent research project, exploring two questions: How are aesthetic experiences processed in the brain? And how can neuroscience help museums design exhibits that maximize visitor engagement? I combed through studies with results from tightly controlled experiments, and I spent days gathering my own qualitative data by observing museum visitors and asking them questions. With the help of my artistic skills, I could identify the visual and spatial elements of the exhibits that best held visitors’ attention.
By synergizing two of the ingredients that make me who I am—art and neuroscience—I realized I shouldn’t see the different sides of myself as separate. I learned to instead seek the intersections between aspects of my identity. Since then, I have mixed art with activism to voice my opinions nonverbally, created Spotify playlists with both Chinese and western pop, and written flute compositions using music theory and math. In the future, by continuing to combine my interests, I want to find my niche in the world. I can make a positive impact on society without having to choose just one passion. As of now, my dream is to be a neuroscientist who designs art therapy treatments for mental health patients. Who knows though? Maybe my calling is to be a dim sum chef who teaches pottery on the side. I don’t know where I’ll go, but one thing’s for sure—being a standard pork and cabbage dumpling is definitely not my style.
This essay is outstanding because the student seems likable and authentic. With the first image of the student’s little sister vigorously nodding and holding up “five stubby fingers,” we find ourselves intrigued by the student’s daily life. They additionally show the importance of family, culture, and creativity in their life—these are great things to highlight in your essay!
After the introduction, the student uses their weird dumpling anecdote to transition to a discussion of their unique intersections. This is achieved smoothly because weirdness/uniqueness is the focus of both of these topics. Additionally, the comparison is not awkward because dumplings are used as more than just a transition, but rather are the through-line of the essay—the student weaves in little phrases like “Just as barbeque pork and pineapple can combine beautifully in a dumpling wrapper,” “By synergizing two of the ingredients that make me who I am,” and “being a standard pork and cabbage dumpling is definitely not my style.” This gives the essay its cohesive feel.
Authenticity comes through in this essay as the student recognizes that they don’t know what the future holds. They just know what kind of a person they are—a passionate one!
One change that would improve this student’s essay would be focusing on fewer intersections in their third and last paragraph. The student mentions STEM, music, family activities, activism, and painting, which makes it feel like a distraction in middle of the essay. Focus on the most important things you want to show admissions officers—you can sit at intersections, but you can’t be interested in everything.
Prompt #7, Example #3
“Everyone follow me!” I smiled at five wide-eyed skaters before pushing off into a spiral. I glanced behind me hopefully, only to see my students standing frozen like statues, the fear in their eyes as clear as the ice they swayed on. “Come on!” I said encouragingly, but the only response I elicited was the slow shake of their heads. My first day as a Learn-to-Skate coach was not going as planned.
But amid my frustration, I was struck by how much my students reminded me of myself as a young skater. At seven, I had been fascinated by Olympic performers who executed thrilling high jumps and dizzying spins with apparent ease, and I dreamed to one day do the same. My first few months on skates, however, sent these hopes crashing down: my attempts at slaloms and toe-loops were shadowed by a stubborn fear of falling, which even the helmet, elbow pads, and two pairs of mittens I had armed myself with couldn’t mitigate. Nonetheless, my coach remained unfailingly optimistic, motivating me through my worst spills and teaching me to find opportunities in failures. With his encouragement, I learned to push aside my fears and attack each jump with calm and confidence; it’s the hope that I can help others do the same that now inspires me to coach.
I remember the day a frustrated staff member directed Oliver, a particularly hesitant young skater, toward me, hoping that my patience and steady encouragement might help him improve. Having stood in Oliver’s skates not much earlier myself, I completely empathized with his worries but also saw within him the potential to overcome his fears and succeed.
To alleviate his anxiety, I held Oliver’s hand as we inched around the rink, cheering him on at every turn. I soon found though, that this only increased his fear of gliding on his own, so I changed my approach, making lessons as exciting as possible in hopes that he would catch the skating bug and take off. In the weeks that followed, we held relay races, played “freeze-skate” and “ice-potato”, and raced through obstacle courses; gradually, with each slip and subsequent success, his fear began to abate. I watched Oliver’s eyes widen in excitement with every skill he learned, and not long after, he earned his first skating badge. Together we celebrated this milestone, his ecstasy fueling my excitement and his pride mirroring my own. At that moment, I was both teacher and student, his progress instilling in me the importance of patience and a positive attitude.
It’s been more than ten years since I bundled up and stepped onto the ice for the first time. Since then, my tolerance for the cold has remained stubbornly low, but the rest of me has certainly changed. In sharing my passion for skating, I have found a wonderful community of eager athletes, loving parents, and dedicated coaches from whom I have learned invaluable lessons and wisdom. My fellow staffers have been with me, both as friends and colleagues, and the relationships I’ve formed have given me far more poise, confidence, and appreciation for others. Likewise, my relationships with parents have given me an even greater gratitude for the role they play: no one goes to the rink without a parent behind the wheel!
Since that first lesson, I have mentored dozens of children, and over the years, witnessed tentative steps transform into powerful glides and tears give way to delighted grins. What I have shared with my students has been among the greatest joys of my life, something I will cherish forever. It’s funny: when I began skating, what pushed me through the early morning practices was the prospect of winning an Olympic medal. Now, what excites me is the chance to work with my students, to help them grow, and to give back to the sport that has brought me so much happiness.
A major strength of this essay comes in its narrative organization. When reading this first paragraph, we feel for the young skaters and understand their fear—skating sounds scary! Then, because the writer sets us up to feel this empathy, the transition to the second paragraph where the student describes their empathy for the young skaters is particularly powerful. It’s like we are all in it together! The student’s empathy for the young skaters also serves as an outstanding, seamless transition to the applicant discussing their personal journey with skating: “I was struck by how much my students reminded me of myself as a young skater.”
This essay positions the applicant as a grounded and caring individual. They are caring towards the young skaters—changing their teaching style to try to help the young skaters and feeling the young skaters’ emotions with them—but they are also appreciative to those who helped them as they reference their fellow staffers and parents. This shows great maturity—a favorable quality in the eyes of an admissions officer.
At the end of the essay, we know a lot about this student and are convinced that they would be a good addition to a college campus!
Prompt #7, Example #4
Flipping past dozens of colorful entries in my journal, I arrive at the final blank sheet. I press my pen lightly to the page, barely scratching its surface to create a series of loops stringing together into sentences. Emotions spill out, and with their release, I feel lightness in my chest. The stream of thoughts slows as I reach the bottom of the page, and I gently close the cover of the worn book: another journal finished.
I add the journal to the stack of eleven books on my nightstand. Struck by the bittersweet sensation of closing a chapter of my life, I grab the notebook at the bottom of the pile to reminisce.
“I want to make a flying mushen to fly in space and your in it” – October 2008
Pulling back the cover of my first Tinkerbell-themed diary, the prompt “My Hopes and Dreams” captures my attention. Though “machine” is misspelled in my scribbled response, I see the beginnings of my past obsession with outer space. At the age of five, I tore through novels about the solar system, experimented with rockets built from plastic straws, and rented Space Shuttle films from Blockbuster to satisfy my curiosities. While I chased down answers to questions as limitless as the universe, I fell in love with learning. Eight journals later, the same relentless curiosity brought me to an airplane descending on San Francisco Bay.
“I wish I had infinite sunsets” – July 2019
I reach for the charcoal notepad near the top of the pile and open to the first page: my flight to the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes. While I was excited to explore bioengineering, anxiety twisted in my stomach as I imagined my destination, unsure of whether I could overcome my shyness and connect with others.
With each new conversation, the sweat on my palms became less noticeable, and I met students from 23 different countries. Many of the moments where I challenged myself socially revolved around the third story deck of the Jerry house. A strange medley of English, Arabic, and Mandarin filled the summer air as my friends and I gathered there every evening, and dialogues at sunset soon became moments of bliss. In our conversations about cultural differences, the possibility of an afterlife, and the plausibility of far-fetched conspiracy theories, I learned to voice my opinion. As I was introduced to different viewpoints, these moments challenged my understanding of the world around me. In my final entries from California, I find excitement to learn from others and increased confidence, a tool that would later allow me to impact my community.
“The beauty in a tower of cans” – June 2020
Returning my gaze to the stack of journals, I stretch to take the floral-patterned book sitting on top. I flip through, eventually finding the beginnings of the organization I created during the outbreak of COVID-19. Since then, Door-to-Door Deliveries has woven its way through my entries and into reality, allowing me to aid high-risk populations through free grocery delivery.
With the confidence I gained the summer before, I took action when seeing others in need rather than letting my shyness hold me back. I reached out to local churches and senior centers to spread word of our services and interacted with customers through our website and social media pages. To further expand our impact, we held two food drives, and I mustered the courage to ask for donations door-to-door. In a tower of canned donations, I saw the value of reaching out to help others and realized my own potential to impact the world around me.
I delicately close the journal in my hands, smiling softly as the memories reappear, one after another. Reaching under my bed, I pull out a fresh notebook and open to its first sheet. I lightly press my pen to the page, “And so begins the next chapter…”
The structuring of this essay makes it easy and enjoyable to read. The student effectively organizes their various life experiences around their tower of journals, which centers the reader and makes the different stories easy to follow. Additionally, the student engages quotes from their journals—and unique formatting of the quotes—to signal that they are moving in time and show us which memory we should follow them to.
Thematically, the student uses the idea of shyness to connect the different memories they draw out of their journals. As the student describes their experiences overcoming shyness at the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Summer Institutes and Door-to-Door Deliveries, this essay can be read as an Overcoming Obstacles essay.
At the end of this essay, readers are fully convinced that this student is dedicated (they have committed to journaling every day), thoughtful (journaling is a thoughtful process and, in the essay, the student reflects thoughtfully on the past), and motivated (they flew across the country for a summer program and started a business). These are definitely qualities admissions officers are looking for in applicants!
Prompt #7, Example #5
“We’re ready for take-off!”
The tires hit the tarmac and began to accelerate, and I just realized what I had signed up for. For 24 hours straight, I strapped myself into a broken-down SUV whereas others chose the luxury of soaring through the skies for a mere two hours. Especially with my motion sickness and driving anxiety, I would call myself crazy too.
To say I have always remained in my comfort zone is an understatement. Did I always order chicken fingers and fries at a restaurant? Yup! Sounds like me. Did I always create a color-coded itinerary just for a day trip? Guilty as charged. Did I always carry a first-aid kit at all times? Of course! I would make even an ambulance look unprepared. And yet here I was, choosing 1,000 miles of misery from Las Vegas to Seattle despite every bone in my body telling me not to.
The sunlight blinded my eyes and a wave of nausea swept over me. Was it too late to say I forgot my calculator? It was only ten minutes in, and I was certain that the trip was going to be a disaster. I simply hoped that our pre-drive prayer was not stuck in God’s voicemail box.
All of a sudden, I noticed brightly colored rocks in the distance, ones I had been dying to see for years. Their fluorescence popped amongst the magnificent winding hills as the sunset became romantic in hue. The desert glistened with mirages of deep blue water unlike anything I had ever seen. Nevada was home, but home always seemed to be just desert and casinos. For once, I looked forward to endless desert outside my window rather than a sea of clouds.
I never realized how little I discovered of the world beyond home. For years I complained about how there was nothing to do or discover outside. Not once did I set out to prove myself wrong. Instead, I chose a daily routine of homework at the kitchen table and late-night TV. However, as summer vacation ended, I decided to set my stubbornness aside and finally give this drive back home a chance. Little did I know that it would turn out to be my favorite trip of all time.
As we drove along, the world chose to prove me wrong when I discovered Heaven on Earth along Shasta Lake. I stood out of the sunroof, surrounded by lush green mountains and fog. I extended my arms out and felt a sense of flight that no plane could ever take me on. As the water vapor kissed my face, I floated into a dreamland I never wanted to leave. I didn’t have to go to great lengths to discover the beauty of the world; it was right in front of me. From this moment on, comfort and convenience would no longer be my best friends. Rather than only looking for famous travel destinations or following carefully mapped-out routes, I would let curiosity lead the way.
Since then, my daily life has been anything but routine. I’m proud to boast of my family’s homemade kombucha attempts, of flights purchased and taken in one day, and of a home flooded with knick-knacks from thrifting trips. Every day I set out to try something new, see a different perspective, and go beyond normal. Whether it is by trying a new recipe using taro, making a risky fashion choice with wide-legged pants, or listening to a new music genre in Spanish, I always act with curiosity first.
Over the years, I have devoted my time towards learning Swedish, building computers, and swimming. Although my accent is horrid, some computers almost broke, and even a starfish would outswim me, I continue to enjoy activities I once criticized. For me, there is no enjoyment without some risk. Nobody I know is a kazoo-playing, boogie-board loving, boba connoisseur like me.
This essay is an Overcoming Challenges story that centers around a single anecdote. The structure works nicely as the student describes what they were like before their road trip, what happened on the road trip, and what they were like after.
The most major improvement that this essay needs is better-communicated authenticity. At the beginning, it feels a bit gimmicky. The student describes their preparedness, particularly the fact that they always carry a first aid kit, and it’s not super believable. Then, when they write “Was it too late to say I forgot my calculator?” it feels like we are in a sitcom and the student is that funny obsessive kid. Sitcom characters don’t feel real and you want to make yourself appear profoundly real.
On a similar note, the narrative arc of this essay isn’t entirely believable. The student describes a large personality and value shift but doesn’t describe any struggles that accompany the shift. A quick shift like that is far from easy. On the other hand, if the immediacy of the shift was easy, they could write about moments after their shift in mindset when they have felt troubled by residual desires to stay in their comfort zone, instead of writing “I always act with curiosity first.”
The greatest strength of this essay is the paragraphs beginning “I never realized how little…” and “As we drove along…” The fixation on comfort seems much more believable when it involves “homework at the kitchen table and late-night TV.” The descriptions of the drive provide beautiful, evocative imagery. And it’s topped off with some nice reflection! Digging into this great portion of the essay would make this an even stronger essay!
Want to see more examples? Check out this post with 16 strong essay examples from top schools , including common supplemental essay questions.
At selective schools, your essays account for around 25% of your admissions decision. That’s more than grades (20%) and test scores (15%), and almost as much as extracurriculars (30%). Why is this? Most students applying to top schools will have stellar academics and extracurriculars. Your essays are your chance to stand out and humanize your application.
That’s why it’s vital that your essays are engaging, and present you as someone who would enrich the campus community.
Before submitting your application, you should have someone else review your essays. It’s even better if that person doesn’t know you personally, as they can best tell whether your personality shines through your essay.
That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!
Related CollegeVine Blog Posts
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Over 1,000 Writing Prompts for Students
Compiled by Michael Gonchar
- April 12, 2018
Note: We have 300 new argumentative writing prompts to add to this list.
Sign up for our free Learning Network newsletter. Receive new writing prompts in your inbox every week.
Of all the resources we publish on The Learning Network, perhaps it’s our vast collection of writing prompts that is our most widely used resource for teaching and learning with The Times.
We’ve published iterations of this post in the past — 200 , 401 and even 650 prompts — but never before have we gathered all our prompts, for both personal and argument writing, into one categorized list.
Admittedly, the list is huge. In fact, there are 1,219 questions below on everything from video games and fashion to smartphones and parenting, and each prompt links to a Times article as well as to additional subquestions that can encourage deeper thinking.
To help you navigate this page, here’s an index of topics:
Technology (1-74): Social Media • Smartphones • Internet & Tech Arts & Entertainment (75-248): Music • Television • Video Games • Movies & Theater • Books & Reading • Writing • The Arts • Language & Speech School & Career (249-449): School • Learning & Studying • Education Tech • Teachers & Grading • School Rules & Student Life • College • Work & Careers Identity & Family (450-828): Parenting • Family • Childhood Memories • Growing Up • Overcoming Adversity • Your Personality • Religion & Morality • Role Models • Gender • Race & Ethnicity • Neighborhood & Home • Money & Social Class • What If... Social Life & Leisure Time (829-1,059): Friendship • Dating & Sex • Looks & Fashion • Food • Sports & Games • Travel • Holidays & Seasons • Shopping & Cars Science & Health (1,060-1,140): Science & Environment • Animals & Pets • Exercise & Health Civics & History (1,141-1,219): Guns & the Justice System • Government Policy • History & News
So dive into the hundreds of writing prompts below — and let us know in the comments how you might use them in your classroom.
1. Is Social Media Making Us More Narcissistic? 2. Are You the Same Person on Social Media as You Are in Real Life? 3. How Young Is Too Young to Use Social Media? 4. What Advice Do You Have for Younger Kids About Navigating Social Media? 5. How Do You Use Facebook? 6. What Is Your Facebook Persona? 7. How Real Are You on Social Media? 8. What Memorable Experiences Have You Had on Facebook? 9. Does Facebook Ever Make You Feel Bad? 10. Does Facebook Need a ‘Dislike’ Button? 11. Has Facebook Lost Its Edge? 12. Would You Consider Deleting Your Facebook Account? 13. Would You Quit Social Media? 14. Do You Have ‘Instagram Envy’? 15. Who Is Your Favorite Social Media Star? 16. What’s So Great About YouTube? 17. What Has YouTube Taught You? 18. What Are Your Favorite Viral Videos? 19. What Are Your Favorite Internet Spoofs? 20. What Would You Teach the World in an Online Video? 21. Do You Ever Seek Advice on the Internet? 22. Would You Share an Embarrassing Story Online? 23. Do You Use Twitter? 24. Is Snapchat a Revolutionary Form of Social Media? 25. Why Do You Share Photos? 26. How Do You Archive Your Life? 27. What Ordinary Moments Would You Include in a Video About Your Life? 28. Are Digital Photographs Too Plentiful to Be Meaningful? 29. Do You Worry We Are Filming Too Much? 30. Have You Ever Posted, Emailed or Texted Something You Wish You Could Take Back? 31. Would You Want Your Photo or Video to Go Viral? 32. Do You Worry Colleges or Employers Might Read Your Social Media Posts Someday? 33. Will Social Media Help or Hurt Your College and Career Goals? 34. Should What You Say on Facebook Be Grounds for Getting Fired? 35. Are Anonymous Social Media Networks Dangerous? 36. Should People Be Allowed to Obscure Their Identities Online? 37. Are Parents Violating Their Children’s Privacy When They Share Photos and Videos of Them Online? 38. Would You Mind if Your Parents Blogged About You?
39. Are You Distracted by Your Phone? 40. Are You Distracted by Technology? 41. Does Technology Make Us More Alone? 42. Is Your Phone Love Hurting Your Relationships? 43. How Has the iPhone Affected Your Life? 44. How Young Is Too Young for an iPhone? 45. Do You Always Have Your Phone or Tablet at Your Side? 46. Do Screens Get in the Way of the Rest of Your Life? 47. Do You Experience FOMO When You Unplug? 48. How Much of Your Day is Voluntarily Spent Screen-Free? 49. Does Your Digital Life Have Side Effects? 50. Do You Think Teenagers Are Replacing Drugs With Smartphones? 51. Are You ‘Addicted’ to Texting? 52. How Many Text Messages Are Too Many? 53. Can a GIF Work Better Than Words? 54. Have You Ever Sent an Odd Message Because of Auto-Correct? 55. Do You Spend Too Much Time on Smartphones Playing ‘Stupid Games’? 56. Do Apps Help You or Just Waste Your Time? 57. What Makes HQ Trivia So Popular? 58. Is Pokémon Go a Positive Cultural Force? Or Is it Just Another Excuse for People to Stare at Their Phones?
Internet & Tech
59. Is the Internet Broken? 60. How Do You Protect Your Personal Information From Hackers? 61. How Careful Are You Online? 62. What Story Does Your Personal Data Tell? 63. Do You Worry About the Lack of Anonymity in the Digital Age? 64. Do You Wish You Had More Privacy Online? 65. Would You Be Willing to Pay for Facebook or Google in Exchange for Your Privacy? 66. Have You Ever Been Scammed? 67. Whom Would You Share Your Passwords With? 68. What Tech Tools Play the Biggest Role in Your Life? 69. What New Technologies or Tech Toys Are You Most Excited About? 70. To What Piece of Technology Would You Write a ‘Love Letter’? 71. Do Machines Represent a Threat to Humans? 72. Do You Think Recreational Drones Are Safe? 73. What Role Will Robots Play in Our Future? 74. Will Wearable Technology Ever Really Catch On?
Arts & Entertainment
75. What Songs Are on Your Favorite Playlist? 76. What Are You Listening To? 77. What Musicians or Bands Mean the Most to You? 78. What Music Inspires You? 79. Who in Your Life Introduces You to New Music? 80. Do You Think You’ve Already Forged Your Lifelong Taste in Music? 81. How Much Is Your Taste in Music Based on What Your Friends Like? 82. What Are Your Earliest Memories of Music? 83. Will Musical Training Make You More Successful? 84. What Role Does Hip-Hop Play in Your Life? 85. Which Pop Music Stars Fascinate You? 86. Who Is Your Favorite Pop Diva? 87. What’s Your Karaoke Song? 88. Which Artists Would You Like to See Team Up? 89. How Closely Do You Listen to Lyrics? 90. What Song Lyrics Do You Consider Literature? 91. What Current Musicians Do You Think Will Stand the Test of Time? 92. What Artists or Bands of Today Are Destined for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? 93. What Musician, Actor or Author Should Be a Superstar, but Hasn’t Quite Made It Yet? 94. What Artists Do You Believe Are the Future of Music? 95. What Can You Predict About the Future of the Music Industry? 96. What Artists Do You Consider ‘Sellouts’? 97. How Much Can an Artist Borrow From Earlier Musicians Before It Becomes Stealing? 98. Who Does Hip-Hop Belong To?
99. What Are Your Favorite TV Shows? 100. What Are the Best Things You’ve Watched, Read, Heard or Played This Year? 101. What Are Your TV Habits? 102. Do Your Television Viewing Habits Include ‘Binge-Watching’? 103. What Role Does Television Play in Your Life and the Life of Your Family? 104. What Television Shows Have Mattered to You? 105. How Often Do You Watch a Television Show When It Originally Airs? 106. Have You Fallen Into ‘Friends’ or Any Other Older Television Shows? 107. What Old Television Shows Would You Bring Back? 108. Why Do We Like Reality Shows So Much? 109. What Ideas Do You Have for a Reality Show? 110. What Reality TV Show Would You Want to Be a Guest Star On? 111. Should Children Be Allowed to Compete on TV? 112. What Are Your Favorite Cartoons? 113. What Are Your Favorite Commercials? 114. What Makes a Good Commercial? 115. How Much Are You Influenced by Advertising? 116. Does Reality TV Promote Dangerous Stereotypes? 117. Do TV Shows Like ‘16 and Pregnant’ Promote or Discourage Teenage Pregnancy? 118. Is ‘13 Reasons Why’ Raising Awareness About Teenage Suicide, or Glamorizing It? 119. Do You Watch Hollywood Awards Ceremonies? 120. Why Do We Like to Watch Rich People on TV and in the Movies? 121. Should the Private Lives of Famous People Be Off Limits? 122. Should We Be Privy to the Lives of Celebrities’ Children? 123. Do You Think Child Stars Have It Rough? 124. Does TV Capture the Diversity of America Yet? 125. Is TV Too White? 126. What Stereotypical Characters Make You Cringe? 127. What Makes a Good TV Show Finale?
128. Should Video Games Be Considered a Sport? 129. What Have You Learned Playing Video Games? 130. What Are Your Favorite Video Games? 131. Do You Play Violent Video Games? 132. Should Stores Sell Violent Video Games to Minors? 133. Do Violent Video Games Make People More Violent in Real Life? 134. When Should You Feel Guilty for Killing Zombies? 135. Who Are Your Opponents in Online Gaming? 136. Do You Like Watching Other People Play Video Games? 137. How Excited Are You About the Possibilities of Virtual Reality? 138. Can a Video Game Be a Work of Art? 139. What Game Would You Like to Redesign? 140. How Sexist Is the Gaming World?
Movies & Theater
141. What Are Your Favorite Movies Ever? 142. What Were the Best Movies You Saw in the Past Year? 143. What Movies Do You Watch, or Reference, Over and Over? 144. What Movies, Shows or Books Do You Wish Had Sequels, Spinoffs or New Episodes? 145. What Have You Learned From Movies? 146. Do You Like Horror Movies? 147. Are ‘Dark’ Movies O.K. for Kids? 148. What Is Your Favorite Comedy? 149. Are There Topics That Should Be Off Limits to Comedy? 150. What Is Your Favorite Sports Movie? 151. Who Are Your Favorite Movie Stars? 152. Would You Pay Extra for a 3-D Movie? 153. Where, and How, Do You Watch Movies? 154. What Are the Best Live Theatrical Performances You’ve Ever Seen? 155. Have You Ever Stumbled Upon a Cool Public Performance? 156. Have You Ever Performed for an Audience or Shared Creative Work With Others? 157. Does Live Theater Offer Something You Just Can’t Get Watching Movies or TV? 158. Is Hollywood Becoming More Diverse? 159. What — if Anything — Does the Current Hollywood Film Industry Lack?
Books & Reading
160. What Are the Best Books You’ve Read? 161. Read Any Good Books Lately? 162. What Are Your Favorite Young Adult Novels? 163. What Do You Want to Read This Summer? 164. What Books Do You Think Every Teenager Should Read? 165. What Role Have Books Played in Your Life? 166. Do You Read for Pleasure? 167. Do You Have a Favorite Novelist? 168. To What Writer Would You Award a Prize? 169. Has a Book, Movie, Television Show, Song or Video Game Ever Inspired You to Do Something New? 170. When Have You Seen Yourself and Your Life Reflected in a Book or Other Media? 171. Who Are the Characters That Authors Should Be Writing About? 172. Do You Prefer Your Children’s Book Characters Obedient or Contrary? 173. How Much Power Do Books Have to Teach Young People Tolerance of Others? 174. Do You Read E-Books? 175. Are Paper Books Better Than E-Books? 176. Would You Trade Your Paper Books for Digital Versions? 177. Does Reading a Book Count More Than Listening to One? 178. What Childhood Classic Would You Like to See Turned Into a Movie or TV Show? 179. Are Shortened Versions of Classic Adult Literature Right for Young Children? 180. Is There Any Benefit to Reading Books You Hate? 181. Do You Read or Write Poetry? 182. What Memorable Poetry Have You Ever Read or Heard? 183. What Magazines Do You Read, and How Do You Read Them? 184. Do You Enjoy Reading Tabloid Gossip? 185. Are There Books That Should Be Banned From Your School Library? 186. Do We Still Need Libraries?
187. What Purpose Does Writing Serve in Your Life? 188. Why Do You Write? 189. Are You a Good Storyteller? 190. What’s Your Favorite Joke? 191. Do You Keep a Diary or Journal? 192. Do You Have a Blog? 193. Do You Want to Write a Book? 194. When Do You Write by Hand? 195. Do You Write in Cursive? 196. Do You Write in Your Books? 197. What Is Your Most Memorable Writing Assignment? 198. Do You Ever Write About Challenges You Face in Life? 199. What ‘Mundane Moments’ From Your Life Might Make Great Essay Material? 200. What Would You Write in a Letter to the Editor? 201. If You Had a Column in The New York Times, What Would You Write About? 202. Would You Ever Write Down a Secret and Bury It in the Ground?
203. What Is Your Favorite Type of Art? 204. What Are Your Favorite Works of Art? 205. What Work of Art Has Changed Your Life? 206. What Are the Most Memorable Works of Visual Art You Have Seen? 207. Which Photograph Stays In Your Memory? 208. What’s the Coolest Thing You’ve Ever Seen in a Museum? 209. Do We Need Art in Our Lives? 210. How Important Is Arts Education? 211. What Has Arts Education Done For You? 212. Can Graffiti Ever Be Considered Art? 213. Should Graffiti Be Protected? 214. Can You Separate Art From the Artist? 215. Is It Possible to Separate Art From the Artist Who Created It? 216. Are There Subjects That Should Be Off-Limits to Artists, or to Certain Artists in Particular? 217. Should Society Support Artists and Others Pursuing Creative Works? 218. Should Displays of Art Be Welcome in All Public Spaces? 219. Does Pop Culture Deserve Serious Study? 220. What Do You Think of the Obamas’ Portrait Choices?
Language & Speech
221. What Words Do You Hate? 222. What Words or Phrases Do You Think Are Overused? 223. How Much Slang Do You Use? What Are Your Favorite Words? 224. What Current Slang Words and Expressions Do You Think Will Endure? 225. What Words or Phrases Do You Think Are Overused? 226. What Words or Phrases Should Be Retired? 227. Why Do So Many People Say ‘Like’ and ‘Totally’ All the Time? 228. Do You Say ‘Kind of, Sort of’ More Than You Realize? 229. How Much Do You Curse? 230. Have Curse Words Become So Common They Have Lost Their Shock Value? 231. Do Laws That Ban Offensive Words Make the World a Better Place? 232. How Good Are You at Coming Up With Witty Comebacks? 233. When Did You Last Have a Great Conversation? 234. What Makes a Great Conversation? 235. How Often Do You Have ‘Deep Discussions’? 236. Do You Wish Your Conversations Were Less Small Talk and More ‘Big Talk’? 237. Are We Losing the Art of Listening? 238. How Do You Greet Your Friends and Family? 239. When Do You Choose Making a Phone Call Over Sending a Text? 240. How Much Information Is ‘Too Much Information’? 241. What Does Your Body Language Communicate? 242. Do You Sometimes ‘Hide’ Behind Irony? 243. How Good Is Your Grammar? 244. Does Punctuation in Text Messages Matter? 245. When Do You Remember Learning a New Word? 246. Where Do You Find the Meanings of Unfamiliar Words? 247. Do You Speak a Second, or Third, Language? 248. Should Everyone Learn at Least One Other Language?
School & Careers
249. Should the School Day Start Later? 250. Would a Later School Start Time Increase Student Success? 251. Is Your School Day Too Short? 252. Should Schools Cancel Summer Vacation? 253. Do You Think a Longer School Calendar Is a Good Idea? 254. Should the Dropout Age Be Raised? 255. Should We Rethink How Long Students Spend in High School? 256. Should Students Be Allowed to Skip Senior Year of High School? 257. Should Kids Head to College Early? 258. Do You Like School? 259. Are You Stressed About School? 260. Are High School Students Being Worked Too Hard? 261. What Are You Really Learning at School? 262. What Are You Looking Forward To, or Dreading, This School Year? 263. Would You Rather Attend a Public or a Private High School? 264. How Much Does It Matter to You Which High School You Attend? 265. Are Small Schools More Effective Than Large Schools? 266. Would You Want to Go to a School Like This One? 267. What Kind of Education System Do You Think Is Best? 268. How Would You Grade Your School? 269. What Can Other Schools Learn — and Copy — From Your School? 270. What Would You Miss if You Left Your School? 271. What Do You Hope to Get Out of High School? 272. Should High Schools Do More to Prepare You for Careers? 273. Would You Want to Be Home-Schooled? 274. Should Home-Schoolers Be Allowed to Play Public School Sports? 275. Should All Children Be Able to Go to Preschool? 276. What Is the Purpose of Preschool? 277. Should Kindergarten Be More About Play or Literacy?
Learning & Studying
278. Do Teachers Assign Too Much Homework? 279. Does Your Homework Help You Learn? 280. Do You Need a Homework Therapist? 281. Do You Participate in Class? 282. What Is the Right Amount of Group Work in School? 283. What Do You Think of Grouping Students by Ability in Schools? 284. Does Class Size Matter? 285. What Is Your Best Subject? 286. What’s the Most Challenging Assignment You’ve Ever Had? 287. What Is the Most Memorable Concept You’ve Learned in Science Class, and How Did You Learn It? 288. What Memorable Experiences Have You Had in Learning Science or Math? 289. Are You Afraid of Math? 290. Do We Need a Better Way to Teach Math? 291. Is Shakespeare Too Hard? 292. What Are the Best Ways to Learn About History? 293. How Would You Do on a Civics Test? 294. Does Geography Skill Make You a Better Citizen? 295. What Career or Technical Classes Do You Wish Your School Offered? 296. Does Gym Help Students Perform Better in All Their Classes? 297. Should Reading and Math Be Taught in Gym Class Too? 298. Do You Learn Better After Moving Around? 299. Do Kids Need Recess? 300. What Was Your Favorite Field Trip? 301. What Are Your Best Tips for Studying? 302. Do You Use Study Guides? 303. Is Everything You’ve Been Taught About Study Habits Wrong? 304. What Would You Like to Have Memorized? 305. Should Schools Be Teaching, and Evaluating, Social-Emotional Skills Like ‘Grit’? 306. Should Schools Teach You How to Be Happy? 307. Should Schools Teach Children How to Cook? 308. What ‘Pop-Up’ Classes Do You Wish Your School Offered? 309. Do Schools Provide Students With Enough Opportunities to Be Creative? 310. Does the Way Your Classroom Is Decorated Affect Your Learning? 311. How Much Does Your Life in School Intersect With Your Life Outside School?
Teachers & Grading
312. What Do You Wish Your Teachers Knew About You? 313. When Has a Teacher Inspired You? 314. Has a Teacher Ever Changed Your Mind-Set? 315. What Teacher Would You Like to Thank? 316. What Makes a Good Teacher? 317. Class Time + Substitute = Waste? 318. Should Students Be Able to Grade Their Teachers? 319. How Formal Should Students Be When Interacting with their Teachers and Professors? 320. Have You Ever Been Humiliated by a Teacher? How Did it Affect You? 321. Have Your Teachers or Textbooks Ever Gotten It Wrong? 322. Do You Feel Your School and Teachers Welcome Both Conservative and Liberal Points of View? 323. Do You Have a Tutor? 324. How Important Are Parent-Teacher Conferences? 325. Should Students Be Present at Parent-Teacher Conferences? 326. How Should Parents Handle a Bad Report Card? 327. Does Your School Hand Out Too Many A’s? 328. Do Girls Get Better Grades Than Boys in Your School? 329. How Well Do You Think Standardized Tests Measure Your Abilities? 330. How Seriously Should We Take Standardized Tests? 331. Do You Spend Too Much Time Preparing for Standardized Tests? 332. Should Schools Offer Cash Bonuses for Good Test Scores? 333. Do Your Test Scores Reflect How Good Your Teachers Are? 334. Should Discomfort Excuse Students From Having to Complete an Assignment? 335. Should Schools Give Students ‘Body’ Report Cards?
336. Are the Web Filters at Your School Too Restrictive? 337. Does Technology in the Classroom Ever Get in the Way of Learning? 338. Do Your Teachers Use Technology Well? 339. Should Tablet Computers Become the Primary Way Students Learn in Class? 340. Can Cellphones Be Educational Tools? 341. Should Students Be Barred From Taking Cellphones to School? 342. Should Teachers and Professors Ban Student Use of Laptops in Class? 343. How Do You Use Wikipedia? 344. Should There Be More Educational Video Games in School? 345. Is Online Learning as Good as Face-to-Face Learning? 346. Would You Like to Take a Class Online? 347. Is Live-Streaming Classrooms a Good Idea? 348. How Would You Feel About a Computer Grading Your Essays? 349. Who Should Be Able to See Students’ Records? 350. Does Your School Offer Enough Opportunities to Learn Computer Programming? 351. Does Your School Value Students’ Digital Skills? 352. Do You Know How to Code? Would You Like to Learn?
School Rules & Student Life
353. Are School Dress Codes a Good Idea? 354. How Does Your School Deal With Students Who Misbehave? 355. Can Students at Your School Talk Openly About Their Mental Health Issues? 356. What Role Should the Police Have in Schools? 357. What Are the Best Teaching Methods for Getting Students to Behave Well in Class? 358. Should Schools Be Allowed to Use Corporal Punishment? 359. Is Cheating Getting Worse? 360. Do You Know People Who Cheat on High-Stakes Tests? 361. Is a ‘Regret Clause’ a Good Idea for Cases of Academic Dishonesty? 362. Should Schools Put Tracking Devices in Students’ ID Cards? 363. How Should Schools Handle Unvaccinated Students? 364. How Big a Problem Is Bullying or Cyberbullying in Your School or Community? 365. How Should Schools Address Bullying? 366. How Should Schools Address Cyberbullying? 367. What Should the Punishment Be for Acts of Cyberbullying? 368. When Do Pranks Cross the Line to Become Bullying? 369. How Should Schools Respond to Hazing Incidents? 370. How Do You Feel About Proms? 371. Is Prom Worth It? 372. Do You Want to Be ‘Promposed’ To? 373. Is Prom Just an Excuse to Drink? 374. What’s the Best Party You’ve Ever Been To? 375. What Role Do School Clubs and Teams Play in Your Life? 376. Should All Students Get Equal Space in a Yearbook? 377. Should Yearbooks Include Political News? 378. Should School Newspapers Be Subject to Prior Review? 379. Should More Student Journalists Have Independent Editorial Control? 380. What Are Your Thoughts on Riding the School Bus?
381. How Necessary Is a College Education? 382. Is College Overrated? 383. How Prepared Are You For College? How Well Do You Think You’ll Do? 384. What Worries Do You Have About College? 385. Where Do You Want to Go to College? 386. Does It Matter Where You Go to College? 387. Do College Rankings Really Matter? 388. Do Other People Care Too Much About Your Post-High School Plans? 389. What Are Your Sources for Information About Colleges and Universities? 390. Should Colleges Find a Better Way to Admit Students? 391. Is the College Admissions Process Fair? 392. Should Colleges Use Admissions Criteria Other Than SAT Scores and Grades? 393. Do You Support Affirmative Action in College Admissions? 394. Are Early-Decision Programs Unfair? Should Colleges Do Away With Them? 395. What Criteria Should Be Used in Awarding Scholarships for College? 396. Should Engineers Pay Less for College Than English Majors? 397. What Is the Perfect Number of College Applications to Send? 398. What Role Has Community College Played in Your Life or the Life of Someone You Know? 399. How Much Do You Worry About Taking the SAT or ACT? 400. What Personal Essay Topic Would You Assign to College Applicants? 401. What Qualities Would You Look For in a College Roommate? 402. Would You Want to Take a Gap Year After High School? 403. What Specialty College Would You Create? 404. What Makes a Graduation Ceremony Memorable? 405. Should a College Education be Free? 406. Is Student Debt Worth It? 407. Are Lavish Amenities on College Campuses Useful or Frivolous? 408. Do Fraternities Promote Misogyny? 409. Should Fraternities Be Abolished? 410. Is a Sorority a Good Place for a Feminist? 411. Should Colleges Offer Degrees in Sports? 412. Should ‘Despised Dissenters’ Be Allowed to Speak on College Campuses?
Work & Careers
413. What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? 414. Do You Have a Life Calling? 415. What’s Your Dream Job? 416. What Jobs Are You Most Curious About? 417. What Are Your Longtime Interests or Passions? 418. Do You Think You Will Have a Career That You Love? 419. How Can You Ensure That Your Future Career is Right for You? 420. What Do You Want More From a Career: Happiness or Wealth? 421. What Investment Are You Willing to Make to Get Your Dream Job? 422. Would You Consider Moving Overseas for a Job? 423. What Do You Hope to Be Doing the Year After You Graduate From College? 424. What Would You Choose to Do If You Had Unlimited Free Time and No Restrictions? 425. Is ‘Doing Nothing’ a Good Use of Your Time? 426. Where Do You See Yourself in 10 Years? 427. Would You Like to Be Famous? 428. Would You Consider a Nontraditional Occupation? 429. Would You Rather Work From Home or in an Office? 430. Would You Want to Be a Teacher? 431. Would You Like to Be a Fashion Model? 432. What Hidden Talents Might You Have? 433. What ‘Back-to-the-Land’ Skills Do You Have, or Wish You Had? 434. Would You Like to Be a Farmer? 435. What Skill Could You Teach in Two Minutes? 436. What Have You Made Yourself? 437. What Would You Like to Learn to Make by Hand? 438. What Idea Do You Have That Is Ahead of Its Time? 439. Do You Have an Idea for a Business or App? 440. What Would You Create if You Had Funding? 441. How Did You Start Doing Something You Love? 442. Did You Ever Take a Break From Doing Something You Love? 443. What Have You Done to Earn Money? 444. Do You Have a Job? 445. Is It O.K. to Use Family Connections to Get a Job? 446. Should All High School Students Be Able to Get a Summer Job if They Want One? 447. Would You Quit if Your Values Did Not Match Your Employer’s? 448. Should Employers Be Able to Review Job Applicants’ SAT Scores? 449. How Important Is Related Experience in Doing a Job?
Identity & Family
450. How Close Are You to Your Parents? 451. How Are You and Your Parents Alike and Different? 452. Will You Follow in Your Parents’ Footsteps? 453. Are You Being Raised to Pursue Your Dreams? 454. Do You Have Helicopter Parents? 455. Do Your Parents Spy on You? 456. How Permissive Are Your Parents? 457. How Much Freedom Have Your Parents Given You? 458. At What Age Should Children Be Allowed to Go Places Without Adult Supervision? 459. Should Children Be Allowed to Wear Whatever They Want? 460. How Do Your Parents Teach You to Behave? 461. How, and by Whom, Should Children Be Taught Appropriate Behavior? 462. How Should Parents Discipline Their Kids? 463. When Does Discipline Become Child Abuse? 464. Should Parents Bribe Their Children? 465. Should Parents Make Their Children Clean Their Room? 466. How Do You Make Parenting Difficult for Your Parents? 467. How Often Do You Fight With Your Parents? 468. What Advice Would You Give to Your Mom, Dad or Guardian on How to Be a Better Parent? 469. Do Your Parents Try Too Hard to Be Cool? 470. Do You Ever Feel Embarrassed by Your Parents? 471. Do Your Parents Support Your Learning? 472. Do You Talk About Report Cards With Your Parents? 473. Do You Want Your Parents to Stop Asking You ‘How Was School?’ 474. How Much Do Your Parents Help With Your Homework? 475. Have Your Parents and Teachers Given You Room to Create? 476. How Closely Do Your Parents Monitor Your App Use? 477. Should Parents Limit How Much Time Children Spend on Tech Devices?
478. Who Is Your Family? 479. How Do You Define ‘Family’? 480. What Have You and Your Family Accomplished Together? 481. What Events Have Brought You Closer to Your Family? 482. How Has Your Family Helped or Hindered Your Transition to a New School? 483. What’s Your Role in Your Family? 484. Have You Ever Changed a Family Member’s Mind? 485. How Well Do You Get Along With Your Siblings? 486. Is Your Family Stressed, Tired and Rushed? 487. What Are Your Family Stories of Sacrifice? 488. What Possessions Does Your Family Treasure? 489. What Hobbies Have Been Passed Down in Your Family? 490. What’s the Story Behind Your Name? 491. What Are Your Favorite Names? 492. How Have You Paid Tribute to Loved Ones? 493. What Does the World Need to Know About an Important Person in Your Life? 494. What Do You Know About Your Family’s History? 495. Did Your Parents Have a Life Before They Had Kids? 496. What Family Traditions Do You Want to Carry On When You Get Older?
497. What Is Your Earliest Memory? 498. What Was Your Most Precious Childhood Possession? 499. What Is Your Most Prized Possession? 500. What Objects Tell the Story of Your Life? 501. What Do You Collect? 502. What Were Your Favorite Childhood Shows and Characters? 503. Do You Have Childhood Memories of Being Read Aloud To? 504. What Were Your Favorite Picture Books When You Were Little? 505. What Things Did You Create When You Were a Child? 506. What Places Do You Remember Fondly From Childhood? 507. What Food or Flavor Do You Remember Tasting for the First Time? 508. What Do You Wish You Could See, Hear, Read or Experience for the First Time All Over Again? 509. What Childhood Rules Did You Break? 510. Have You Ever Felt Embarrassed by Things You Used to Like? 511. Do You Wish You Could Return to Moments From Your Past? 512. Was There a Toy You Wanted as a Child but Never Got? 513. What’s the Best Gift You’ve Ever Given or Received? 514. Have You Ever Given, or Received, a Perfect Gift? 515. What’s the Most Memorable Thing You Ever Got in the Mail? 516. Have You Ever Lost (or Found) Something Valuable? 517. What Nicknames Have You Ever Gotten or Given? 518. What Are Your Best Sleepover Memories? 519. What Old, Worn Out Thing Can You Just Not Part With?
520. Is It Harder to Grow Up in the 21st Century Than It Was in the Past? 521. Is Modern Culture Ruining Childhood? 522. Are Adults Hurting Young Children by Pushing Them to Achieve? 523. Is Childhood Today Too Risk-Free? 524. Do We Give Children Too Many Trophies? 525. What Have You Learned in Your Teens? 526. What Do You Remember Best About Being 12? 527. What Personal Achievements Make You Proud? 528. What Are You Grateful For? 529. What Are Some Recent Moments of Happiness in Your Life? 530. What Rites of Passage Have You Participated In? 531. What Advice Would You Give Younger Kids About Middle or High School? 532. What Have You Learned From Older People? 533. What Have You Learned From a Younger Person — and What Have You Taught An Older Person? 534. What Can Older People Learn From Your Generation? 535. What Do Older Generations Misunderstand About Yours? 536. Do You Recognize Yourself in Descriptions of ‘Generation Z’? 537. What Should We Call Your Generation? 538. When Do You Become an Adult? 539. Do You Have ‘Emerging Adult’ Skills? 540. When You Are Old Enough to Vote, Will You? 541. When Should You Be Able to Buy Cigarettes, Drink Alcohol, Vote, Drive and Fight in Wars? 542. Does Your Generation Have Too Much Self-Esteem? 543. Is Your Generation More Self-Centered Than Earlier Generations? 544. Do You Think Anxiety Is A Serious Problem Among Young People? 545. Is Our Culture of Online Shaming Out of Control? 546. Do ‘Shame and Blame’ Work to Change Teenage Behavior? 547. Do You Think Teenagers Can Make a Difference in the World?
548. What Challenges Have You Overcome? 549. What Are Your Secret Survival Strategies? 550. What Do You Do When You Encounter Obstacles to Success? 551. When Have You Failed? What Did You Learn From It? 552. When Have You Ever Succeeded When You Thought You Might Fail? 553. What Life Lessons Has Adversity Taught You? 554. Does Suffering Make Us Stronger and Lead to Success? 555. Which Is More Important: Talent or Hard Work? 556. Are You Hopeful About the Future? 557. When Have You Reinvented Yourself? 558. What Work Went Into Reaching Your Most Difficult Goals? 559. Is Struggle Essential to Happiness? 560. How Often Do You Leave Your ‘Comfort Zone’? 561. What Do You Gain From Pursuing Something You Do Really, Really Badly? 562. When Was the Last Time You Did Something That Scared or Challenged You? 563. What Are You Afraid Of? 564. What Are Your Fears and Phobias? 565. What Are Your Personal Superstitions? 566. Do You Like Being Alone? 567. How Often Do You Cry? 568. Do You Ever Feel Overlooked and Underappreciated? 569. How Have You Handled Being the ‘New Kid’? 570. How Do You Deal With Haters? 571. How Do You React When Provoked? 572. What Good Can Come from Disagreements? 573. When Should You Compromise? 574. Have You Ever Changed Your Mind About a Hot-Button Issue? 575. What Role Does Stress Play in Your Life? 576. Does Stress Affect Your Ability to Make Good Decisions? 577. How Do You Relieve Stress? 578. How Important Is Keeping Your Cool? 579. Is ‘Be Yourself’ Bad Advice? 580. Do People Complain Too Much? 581. What’s Your Favorite Mood Booster? 582. How Do You Find Peace in Your Life? 583. Does Your Life Leave You Enough Time to Relax? 584. Do You Set Rules for Yourself About How You Use Your Time? 585. What Did You Once Hate but Now Like? 586. What Kind of Feedback Helps You Improve? 587. Is Trying Too Hard to Be Happy Making You Sad? 588. Does Achieving Success Always Include Being Happy? 589. Do Adults Who Are ‘Only Trying to Help’ Sometimes Make Things Worse? 590. Have You Ever Felt Pressured by Family or Others in Making an Important Decision About Your Future?
591. What Makes You Happy? 592. What Motivates You? 593. What Are You Good At? 594. What Is Your Personal Credo? 595. When in Your Life Have You Been a Leader? 596. Are You More of a Leader or a Follower? 597. Do Great Leaders Have to Be Outgoing? 598. How Well Do You Perform Under Pressure? 599. How Well Do You Take Criticism? 600. Are You Hard or Easy on Yourself? 601. How Full Is Your Glass? 602. Do You Have a Hard Time Making Decisions? 603. How Much Self-Control Do You Have? 604. How Good Are You at Waiting for What You Really Want? 605. What Role Does Procrastination Play in Your Life? 606. How Good Are You at Time Management? 607. What Kind of Time Management Skills Are You Learning from the Adults in Your Life? 608. How Do You Remember What You Need to Remember? 609. How Productive and Organized Are You? 610. Under What Conditions Do You Do Your Best Work? 611. How Do You Express Yourself Creatively? 612. Can Creativity Be Scheduled? 613. Are You a Good Listener? 614. When and For What Reasons Do You Seek Silence? 615. Are You a Perfectionist? 616. How Competitive Are You? 617. Do You Perform Better When You’re Competing or When You’re Collaborating? 618. Has Modesty Ever Prevented You From Celebrating an Achievement? 619. How Emotionally Intelligent Are You? 620. How Stoic Are You? 621. How Do You Cope With Grief? 622. How Good Are You at Saying Goodbye? 623. Do You Take More Risks When You Are Around Your Friends? 624. Do You Unknowingly Submit to Peer Pressure? 625. Have You Ever Felt Pressured to Betray Your Beliefs? 626. How Easy — or Hard — Is It for You to Say No When You Want To? 627. How Do You Handle Fear? 628. Do You Think You’re Brave? 629. How Much of a Daredevil Are You? 630. What Activities Make You Feel Most Alive? 631. What Pranks, Jokes, Hoaxes or Tricks Have You Ever Fallen For or Perpetrated? 632. How Impulsive Are You? 633. Are You a Novelty-Seeker? 634. How Do You Deal With Boredom? 635. How Often Do You Talk to Yourself? 636. What Annoys You? 637. Do You Apologize Too Much? 638. Do You Know How to Say ‘I’m Sorry?’ 639. Do You Have Good Manners? 640. How Materialistic Are You? 641. Are You a Saver or a Tosser? 642. Are You a Hoarder or a Minimalist? 643. Are You an Introvert or an Extrovert? 644. Are You Popular, Quirky or Conformist? 645. Are You a Nerd or a Geek? 646. What Would Your Personal Mascot Be? 647. What Assumptions Do People Make About You? 648. How Strong Is Your Sense of Smell? 649. What Animal Are You Most Like?
Religion & Morality
650. What Is the Role of Religion or Spirituality in Your Life? 651. How Important Is Your Spiritual Life? 652. Do You Believe That Everything Happens for a Reason? 653. How Much Control Do You Think You Have Over Your Fate? 654. Can You Be Good Without God? 655. Are You Less Religious Than Your Parents? 656. Can You Pass a Basic Religion Test? 657. What Can You Learn From Other Religions? 658. Do You Believe That Everything Happens for a Reason? 659. How Important Do You Think It Is to Marry Someone With the Same Religion? 660. How Trustworthy Are You? 661. How Comfortable Are You With Lying? 662. When Do You Lie? 663. Have You Ever Lied to Your Parents or Done Something Behind Their Backs? 664. Can You Spot a Liar? 665. What Ethical Dilemmas Have You Faced? 666. Have You Ever Had to Make a Sacrifice to Help Someone You Care About? 667. Have You Ever Donated Your Time, Talents, Possessions or Money to Support Anyone in Need? 668. When Is the Last Time You Did Something Nice for a Stranger? 669. Do Bystanders Have a Responsibility to Intervene When There is Trouble? 670. Do Leaders Have Moral Obligations? 671. Have You Ever ‘Paid It Forward’? 672. Can Kindness Become Cool? 673. What Acts of Kindness Have You Witnessed or Participated In? 674. Is Teenage ‘Voluntourism’ Wrong? 675. Have You Ever Taken Something You Weren’t Supposed To? 676. When Is Looting Morally O.K.? 677. Do You Ever Eavesdrop? 678. How Much Do You Gossip?
679. Who Are the People – Famous or Not – You Admire Most? 680. Who Are Your Heroes? 681. What Is a Hero? 682. Do We Need More Diverse Superheroes? 683. Who Is Your Role Model? 684. Who Inspires You? 685. What Makes Someone a Great Leader? 686. What Acts of Bravery Have You Witnessed? 687. What’s the Best Advice You’ve Gotten? 688. What Are Some ‘Words of Wisdom’ That Guide Your Life? 689. Who Outside Your Family Has Made a Difference in Your Life? 690. If You Had Your Own Talk Show, Whom Would You Want to Interview? 691. To Whom, or What, Would You Like to Write a Thank-You Note? 692. What Leader Would You Invite to Speak at Your School? 693. What Six People, Living or Dead, Would You Invite to Dinner? 694. Who’s Your ‘Outsider Role Model’?
695. Have You Ever Been Told You Couldn’t Do Something Because of Your Gender? 696. Do Parents Have Different Hopes and Standards for Their Sons Than for Their Daughters? 697. How Do Your Parents Share the Responsibilities of Parenting? 698. How Do Male and Female Roles Differ in Your Family? 699. Do You Consider Yourself a Feminist? 700. What Does Feminism Mean to You? 701. What Have You Learned From the Women in Your Life? 702. What Experiences Have You Had With Gender Bias in School? 703. Is School Designed More for Girls Than Boys? 704. Why Do Boys Lag Behind Girls in Reading? 705. Does Separating Boys and Girls Help Students Perform Better in School? 706. Is Single-Sex Education Still Useful? 707. What Does it Mean to Be ‘a Real Man’? 708. Do We Need to Teach Boys and Men to Be More Emotionally Honest? 709. What Have Been Your Experiences With Catcalling or Other Kinds of Street Harassment? 710. What Should We Do to Fight Sexual Violence Against Young Women? 711. How Should the Problem of Sexual Assault on Campuses Be Addressed? 712. What Is Your Reaction to the #MeToo Movement? 713. Why Aren’t There More Girls in Leadership Roles? 714. Do Professional Women Need a ‘Girls’ Lounge’? 715. Why Aren’t More Girls Choosing to Pursue Careers in Math and Science? 716. Why Aren’t More Girls Pursuing Careers in Computing and Tech Fields? 717. Now That Women Can Serve in All Combat Roles in the U.S. Military, Should They Also Be Required to Register for the Draft? 718. Do Female Athletes Get Short Shrift? 719. Should Sports Be Coed? 720. Should the Boy Scouts Be Coed? 721. Do You Believe in Equal Rights for Women and Men? 722. Does the U.S. Constitution Need an Equal Rights Amendment? 723. Is It Harder Being a Girl? 724. Do We Need New Ways to Identify Gender and Sexuality? 725. Should Toys Be More Gender-Neutral? 726. Should There Be More Boy Dolls? 727. What Rules Should Apply to Transgender Athletes When They Compete? 728. Are Women Better at Compromising and Collaborating? 729. Do Boys Have Less Intense Friendships Than Girls?
Race & Ethnicity
730. Is America ‘Backsliding’ on Race? 731. Why Is Race So Hard to Talk About? 732. How Often Do You Interact With People of Another Race or Ethnicity? 733. Do You Ever Talk About Issues of Race and Class With Your Friends? 734. What Is Your Racial and Ethnic Identity? 735. Have You Ever Tried to Hide Your Racial or Ethnic Identity? 736. Have You Experienced Racism or Other Kinds of Discrimination in School? 737. Is Your Generation Really ‘Postracial’? 738. What’s the Racial Makeup of Your School? 739. Does Your School Seem Integrated? 740. Should Schools Strive for Racial Diversity Among Teachers? 741. How Should Parents Teach Their Children About Race and Racism? 742. Is ‘Black Panther’ a ‘Defining Moment’ for the United States — and Particularly for Black America?
Your Neighborhood & Home
743. How Much Does Your Neighborhood Define Who You Are? 744. What’s Special About Your Hometown? 745. What Marketing Slogan Would You Use for Your Town or City? 746. What Would You Name Your Neighborhood? 747. Who Are the ‘Characters’ That Make Your Town Interesting? 748. Who Is the ‘Mayor’ of Your School or Neighborhood? 749. What Do the Types of Dogs in Your Neighborhood Say About Where You Live? 750. What Would a TV Show About Your Town Spoof? 751. What ‘Urban Legends’ Are There About Places in Your Area? 752. Do You Know Your Way Around Your City or Town? 753. How Well Do You Know Your Neighbors? 754. What Is Your Favorite Place? 755. What’s Your Favorite Neighborhood Joint? 756. What Is Your Favorite Street? 757. Do You Hang Out in the Park? 758. How Much Time Do You Spend in Nature? 759. How Do You Get Your Nature Fix? 760. What Small Things Have You Seen and Taken Note Of Today? 761. What Buildings Do You Love? What Buildings Do You Hate? 762. What Are the Sounds That Make Up the Background Noise in Your Life? 763. What Sounds Annoy You? 764. What Public Behavior Annoys You Most? 765. Have You Ever Interacted With the Police? 766. What Local Problems Do You Think Your Mayor Should Try to Solve? 767. What Ideas Do You Have for Enhancing Your Community? 768. Where Do You Think You Will Live When You Are an Adult? 769. Do You Think That in Your 20s You Will Live in a City? 770. Would You Most Want to Live in a City, a Suburb or the Country? 771. Do You Think You Might Like Communal Living When You’re an Adult? 772. What Would Your Ideal City Look Like? 773. What City or Town Most Captures Your Imagination? 774. Would You Want a Bike Share Program for Your Community? 775. Is Your Bedroom a Nightmare? 776. What is Your Favorite Place in Your House? 777. What’s Your Favorite Room? 778. How Important Is Keeping a Clean House? 779. Do You Need to De-Clutter Your Life? 780. Does Keeping a Messy Desk Make People More Creative? 781. Do You Plan on Saving Any of Your Belongings for the Future? 782. With Your Home in Danger, What Would You Try to Save? 783. What Would You Grab in a Fire? 784. What Would You Put in Your Emergency ‘Go-Bag’? 785. Who Lived Long Ago Where You Live Now? 786. What Would Your Dream Home Be Like?
Money & Social Class
787. What Are Your Expectations About Earning, Saving and Spending Money? 788. What Choices Do You Make About Money Every Day? 789. Are You a Saver or a Spender? 790. What Have Your Parents Taught You About Money? 791. Do You Expect Your Parents to Give You Money? 792. How Much Financial Help Do You Expect From Your Parents in the Future? 793. How Important a Role Has Money, Work or Social Class Played in Your Life? 794. Do You See Great Disparities of Wealth in Your Community? 895. Is It Possible to Start Out Poor in This Country, Work Hard and Become Well-Off? 896. Should Rich People Have to Pay More Taxes? 897. Do We Need a Higher Minimum Wage? 898. Can Money Buy You Happiness? 899. Does Buying and Accumulating More and More Stuff Make Us Happier? 800. What Are the Best Things in Life and Are They Free? 801. What Causes Should Philanthropic Groups Finance? 802. Should Charities Focus More on America? 803. What Organizations Do You Think People Should Give to This Holiday Season? 804. Whom, or What, Would You Want to Help With a Crowdfunding Campaign? 805. Do Poor People ‘Have It Easy’? 806. Should People Give Money to Panhandlers? 8
807. What Would You Do if You Won the Lottery? 808. What Superpower Do You Wish You Had? 809. What Era Do You Wish You Had Lived In? 810. Would You Want to Be a Tween or Teen Star? 811. Would You Want to Be a Child Prodigy? 812. Would You Want to Grow Up in the Public Eye? 813. What Kind of Robot Would You Want? 814. What Fantasy Invention Would You Want to Exist in Reality? 815. What Would You Outsource if You Could? 816. What Would You Like to Learn on Your Own? 817. What Would You Be Willing to Wait in a Really Long Line For? 818. If You Were a Super Rich Philanthropist, What Causes Would You Support? 819. What Would You Do if You Were President? 820. What Famous Person Would You Like to Visit Your School? 821 Who Would Be the Ideal Celebrity Neighbor? 822. What Do You Want to Be Doing When You’re 80? 823. Do You Want to Live to 100? 824. What Do You Want Your Obituary to Say? 825. What Do You Want to Be Known for After Your Death? 826. Would You Like to Be Cryogenically Preserved (Frozen!) Upon Your Death? 827. If the World Was Ending, What Would You Want to Say? 828. What Items Would You Place in a Time Capsule for Future Generations?
Social Life & Leisure Time
829. Do You Spend Enough Time With Other People? 830. How Often Do You Spend One-on-One Time With Your Closest Friends? 831. Do You Have a Best Friend? 832. Do You Find It Easier to Make New Friends Online or In Person? 833. How Good a Friend Are You? 834. Do You Like Your Friends? 835. What Fads Are You and Your Friends Into Right Now? 836. How Have You Helped a Friend in a Time of Need? 837. Do You Have Any Unlikely Friendships? 838. How Do You Feel About Introducing Friends from Different Parts of Your Life? 839. Do You Ever ‘Mix It Up’ and Socialize With Different People at School? 840. Is Competitiveness an Obstacle to Making or Keeping Friendships? 841. How Should You Handle the End of a Friendship? 842. Have You Ever Felt Left Out?
Dating & Sex
843. Have You Ever Been in Love? 844. What Advice Would You Give to Somebody Who Just Started Dating? 845. Are You Allowed to Date? 846. Is Dating a Thing of the Past? 847. How Do You Think Technology Affects Dating? 848. What Are the Basic ‘Rules’ for Handling Breakups? 849. What’s the Best Way to Get Over a Breakup? 850. What’s the Best Way to Heal a Broken Heart? 851. What Are the Most Meaningful Relationships in Your Life? 852. What Are Your Beliefs About Marriage? 853. Should Couples Live Together Before Marriage? 854. Should Your Significant Other Be Your Best Friend? 855. Could Following These Directions Make You Fall in Love With a Stranger? 856. How Should Children Be Taught About Puberty and Sex? 857. Is Hookup Culture Leaving Your Generation Unhappy and Unprepared for Love? 858. Are Affirmative Consent Rules a Good Idea? 859. Should Birth Control Pills Be Available to Teenage Girls Without a Prescription? 860. Should the Morning-After Pill Be Sold Over the Counter to People Under 17? 861. How Big of a Problem Is Sexting? 862. What Advice Should Parents and Counselors Give Teenagers About Sexting? 863. How Should Parents Address Internet Pornography? 864. Do You Think Porn Influences the Way Teenagers Think About Sex? 865. How Did You Learn About Sex?
Looks & Fashion
866. Are Models Too Skinny? 867. Is There Too Much Pressure on Girls to Have ‘Perfect’ Bodies? 868. How Much Pressure Do Boys Face to Have the Perfect Body? 869. Have You Inherited Your Parents’ Attitudes Toward Their Looks? 870. Has Anyone Ever Said That You Look Like Someone Famous? 871. What Is Your All-Time Favorite Piece of Clothing? 872. Do You Have a Signature Clothing Item? 873. What’s Your Favorite T-Shirt? 874. Do You Care What You Wear? 875. Does What You Wear Say Anything About You as a Person? 876. Should You Always Have the Right to Wear What You Want? 877. What Does Your Hairstyle Say About You? 878. What’s on Your Fashion Shopping List? 879. Are You a Sneaker Head? 880. How Far Would You Go for Fashion? 881. Should You Care About the Health and Safety of Those Making Your Clothing? 882. What Are the Hot Fashion Trends at Your School Right Now? 883. What Current Trends Annoy You? 884. Do ‘Saggy Pants’ Mean Disrespect? 885. Would You Ever Consider Getting a Tattoo? 886. Who Should Decide Whether a Teenager Can Get a Tattoo or Piercing? 887. What Are Your Opinions on Cosmetic Surgery? 888. Do Photoshopped Images Make You Feel Bad About Your Own Looks? 889. Doctored Photos: O.K. or Not? 890. How Important Is It to Be Attractive in Our Society?
Meals & Food
891. What Foods Bring Up Special Memories for You? 892. What Are the Most Memorable Meals You’ve Ever Had? 893. What’s Your Favorite Holiday Food Memory? 894. What’s Your Comfort Food? 895. What Are Your Favorite Junk Foods? 896. What’s Your Favorite Candy? 897. What’s Your Favorite Sandwich? 898. What Convenience Foods Make You Happy? 899. Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been, a Picky Eater? 900. What Are Your ‘Food Rules’? 901. What Messages About Food and Eating Have You Learned From Your Family? 902. How Often Does Your Family Eat Together? 903. How Much Food Does Your Family Waste? 904. Have You Ever Experienced Food Insecurity? 905. Is Breakfast Really the Most Important Meal of the Day? 906. Do You Prefer Your Tacos ‘Authentic’ or ‘Appropriated’? 907. What Food Would You Like to Judge in a Taste-Off? 908. Do You Cook? 909. What Would You Most Like to Learn to Cook or Bake? 910. What Do You Eat During the School Day? 911. Do You Eat Cafeteria Food? 912. Is School Lunch Really All That Bad? 913. Do You Think a Healthier School Lunch Program Is a Lost Cause? 914. Should French Fries and Pizza Sauce Count as Vegetables? 915. Are Your Eating Habits Healthy? 916. How Concerned Are You About Where Your Food Comes From? 917. Is It Ethical to Eat Meat? 918. Do You Pay Attention to Calorie Counts for Food? 919. Do You Pay Attention to Nutrition Labels on Food? 920. Should Sugary Drinks Be Taxed? 921. Should the Government Limit the Size of Sugary Drinks? 922. Should Teenagers Think Twice Before Downing Energy Drinks? 923. Do You Eat Too Quickly? 924. Are Manners Important? 925. What Are Your Favorite Restaurants? 926. What Restaurant Would You Most Like to Review? 927. How Long Is It O.K. to Linger in a Cafe or Restaurant? 928. Should Restaurants Do Away With Tipping?
Sports & Games
929. What’s the Most Impressive Sports Moment You’ve Seen? 930. Who Is Your Favorite Athlete, and Why? 931. Who Are Your Sports Heroes? 932. What Sports Teams Do You Root For? 933. When Has a Sports Team Most Disappointed You? 934. Do You Participate in March Madness? 935. Does Being a Fan Help Define Who You Are? 936. How Far Would You Go to Express Loyalty to Your Favorite Teams? 937. How Much Should Fans Be Allowed to Distract Opposing Teams? 938. What Fan Memorabilia Would You Pay Big Bucks For? 939. Are You a Fair-Weather Fan? 940. Are You a Football Fan? 941. Do You Watch the Super Bowl? 942. Should Parents Let Their Children Play Football? 943. Should High Schools Drop Football Because Too Many Players Are Getting Injured? 944. If Football Is So Dangerous to Players, Should We Be Watching It? 945. Are Some Youth Sports Too Intense? 946. Does a Championship Game Always Need to Have a Winner (and a Loser)? 947. Should There Be Stricter Rules About How Coaches Treat Their Players? 948. Do Fans Put Too Much Pressure on Their Favorite Professional Athletes? 949. Does Better Sports Equipment Unfairly Improve Athletic Ability? 950. Should Technology in Sports Be Limited? 951. What Extreme Sports Interest You Most? 952. Are Some Extreme Sports Too Extreme? 953. Is Cheerleading a Sport? 954. Should Cheerleading Be an Olympic Sport? 955. Has Baseball Lost Its Cool? 956. Do Sports Teams Have a Responsibility to Hold Players to a Standard for Their Personal Conduct? 957. Should Athletes Who Dope Have to Forfeit Their Titles and Medals? 958. How Big a Deal Is It That an N.B.A. Player Came Out as Gay? 959. Should Women’s Basketball Lower the Rims? 960. Should College Football Players Get Paid? 961. Should Colleges Fund Wellness Programs Instead of Sports? 962. Where Should Colleges and Sports Teams Draw the Line in Selling Naming Rights? 963. Is ‘Redskins’ an Offensive Name for a Team? 964. Is It Offensive for Sports Teams to Use Native American Names and Mascots? 965. What Are Your Thoughts on Sports Betting? 966. Should Sports Betting Be Legal Everywhere? 967. How Young Is Too Young to Climb Mount Everest? 968. Should Girls and Boys Sports Teams Compete in the Same League? 969. Why Do You Play Sports? 970. What Kinds of Games and Puzzles Do You Like? 971. Do You Enjoy Playing Games or Solving Puzzles? 972. What Are Your Favorite Board Games? 973. What Are Your Favorite Games? 974. What Rules Would You Like to See Changed in Your Favorite Sports? 975. How Would You Change Your Favorite Sport? 976. What Game Would You Like to Redesign?
977. Where Do You Want to Travel? 978. What Is Your Fantasy Vacation? 979. What Would Your Fantasy Road Trip Be Like? 980. What Crazy Adventure Would You Want to Take? 981. What Local ‘Microadventures’ Would You Like to Go On? 982. How Would You Spend Your Ideal Family Vacation? 983. How Has Travel Affected You? 984. What Kind of Tourist Are You? 985. What Are the Best Souvenirs You’ve Ever Collected While Traveling? 986. What Famous Landmarks Have You Visited? 987. What’s the Coolest Thing You’ve Ever Seen in Nature? 988. What Do You Think You Would Learn From Traveling to All 50 States? 989. How Much Do You Know About the Rest of the World? 990. Would You Like to Live in Another Country? 991. Would You Want to Be a Space Tourist? 992. If You Could Time-Travel, Where Would You Go? 993. How Good Is Your Sense of Direction?
Holidays & Seasons
994. How Do You Celebrate Your Birthday? 995. Should the United States Celebrate Columbus Day? 996. A Short Fall Break, but What Should We Call It? 997. Will You Be Wearing a Halloween Costume This Year? 998. When Does a Halloween Costume Cross the Line? 999. Should Halloween Costumes Portray Only ‘Positive Images’? 1,000. Dressing Up Like Creepy Clowns: Freedom of Expression or Public Nuisance? 1,001. Do You Like Scary Movies and Books? 1,002. What Is the Scariest Story You Have Ever Heard? 1,003. Do You Believe in Ghosts? 1,004. Do You Believe in Astrology? 1,005. What Are Your Thanksgiving Traditions? 1,006. Will Your Family Members Disagree With Each Other About Politics This Thanksgiving? 1,007. What Has Been Your Most Memorable Thanksgiving? 1,008. What Do You Look Forward to Most – and Least – During the Holiday Season? 1,009. What Are Your Tips for Enjoying the Holiday Season? 1,010. How Will You Spend the Holiday Break? 1,011. What Does Santa Claus Mean to You? 1,012. Do You Look Forward to New Year’s Eve? 1,013. Do You Make New Year’s Resolutions? 1,014. How Do You Fight the Winter Blues? 1,015. What Would You Do on a Snow Day? 1,016. What Are Your Experiences With Severe Weather? 1,017. How Do You Feel About Valentine’s Day? 1,018. How Do You Celebrate Spring? 1,019. What Would Your Fantasy Spring Break Be Like? 1,020. What Are You Looking Forward to This Summer? 1,021. What Would Your Ideal Summer Camp Be Like? 1,022. What Are Your Favorite Summer Hangouts? 1,023. What’s Your Favorite Summer Food? 1,024. What Is Your Favorite Summer Movie? 1,025. What’s on Your Summer Reading List? 1,026. Do You Have a Summer Job? 1,027. What Did This Summer Teach You? 1,028. Do You Choose Summer Activities to Look Good on Applications? 1,029. What Are the Best Things You Did This Summer? 1,030. How Do You Prepare to Go Back to School? 1,031. How Can People Make the Most of Long Holiday Weekends? 1,032. What’s Your Sunday Routine? 1,033. What Work, Sport or Pastime Do You Like to Do at Night? 1,034. Would Life Be Better Without Time Zones?
Shopping & Cars
1,035. Do You Ever Hang Out at the Mall? 1,036. How Would You Make Over Your Mall? 1,037. Do You Shop at Locally Owned Businesses? 1,038. What’s Your Favorite Store? 1,039. To What Company Would You Write a Letter of Complaint or Admiration? 1,040. To What Business Would You Like to Give Advice? 1,041. Do Politics Ever Influence How or Where You Shop? 1,042. Do Companies Have a Responsibility to Contribute Positively to Society? 1,043. Should We Think Twice Before Buying Online? 1,044. Is Amazon Becoming Too Powerful? 1,045. How Much Do You Trust Online Reviews? 1,046. Should Companies Collect Information About You? 1,047. Could You Stop Shopping for an Entire Year? 1,048. What Are the Best Things You’ve Acquired Secondhand? 1,049. Did You Take Part in Any Post-Thanksgiving Shopping? 1,050. What Time Should Black Friday Sales Start? 1,051. How Important Is It to Have a Driver’s License? 1,052. Are You a Good Driver? 1,053. Do You Have a Dream Car? 1,054. Would You Like to Ride in a Car That Drives Itself? 1,055. Should Distracted Driving Be Punished Like Drinking and Driving? 1,056. Should Texting While Driving Be Illegal in Every State? 1,057. Is Drinking and Driving Still a Problem for Teenagers? 1,058. If Teenagers Are Such Bad Drivers, Should They Be Allowed to Drive? 1,059. Are Self-Driving Vehicles the Wave of the Future?
Science & Health
Science & Environment
1,060. How Green Are You? 1,061. How Do You Try to Reduce Your Impact on the Environment? 1,062. Do You Ever Feel Guilty About What, or How Much, You Throw Away? 1,063. What Could You Live Without? 1,064. Should Single-Use Plastic Shopping Bags Be Banned? 1,065. What Are Your Thoughts About Wind Power? 1,066. Do We Crank Up the A.C. Too High? 1,067. How Concerned Are You About Climate Change? 1,068. How Should Nations and Individuals Address Climate Change? 1,069. If You Were President, What Would You Do About Climate Change? 1,070. Should Schools Teach About Climate Change? 1,071. How Do You Celebrate Earth Day? 1,072. Should Developers Be Allowed to Build in and Near the Grand Canyon? 1,073. Should Scientists Try to Help People Beat Old Age So We Can Live Longer Lives? 1,074. Should Extinct Animals Be Resurrected? If So, Which Ones? 1,075. How Do You Think Dinosaurs Went Extinct? 1,076. Given Unlimited Resources, What Scientific or Medical Problem Would You Investigate? 1,077. What Are the Five Greatest Inventions of All Time? 1,078. What Would You Invent to Make the World a Better Place? 1,079. When Is It O.K. to Replace Human Limbs With Technology? 1,080. Should Fertilized Eggs Be Given Legal ‘Personhood’? 1,081. Do You Think Life Exists — or Has Ever Existed — Somewhere Besides Earth? 1,082. Do You Believe in Intelligent Alien Life? 1,083. Will Humans Live on Mars Someday? 1,084. Would You Want to Be a Space Tourist? 1,085. What Would You Name a New Star or Planet?
Animals & Pets
1,086. How Do You Feel About Zoos? 1,087. Do Gorillas Belong in Zoos? 1,088. Is It Unethical for a Zoo to Kill a Healthy Giraffe? 1,089. Should Farm Animals Have More Legal Protections? 1,090. Is It Wrong to Focus on Animal Welfare When Humans Are Suffering? 1,091. Is It Ethical to Genetically Engineer Animals? 1,092. When Is Animal Testing Justified? 1,093. Should Certain Animals Have Some of the Same Legal Rights As People? 1,094. Should Circuses Be Animal Free? 1,095. Is This Exhibit Animal Cruelty or Art? 1,096. Should You Go to Jail for Kicking a Cat? 1,097. Should You Feel Guilty About Killing Spiders, Ants or Other Bugs? 1,098. Should Emotional Support Animals Be Allowed on College Campuses? 1,099. Are Emotional-Support Animals a Scam? 1,100. What Are the Animals in Your Life? 1,101. What’s Your Relationship Like With Your Pet? 1,102. How Well Do You Know Your Pet? 1,103. Should We Be Concerned With Where We Get Our Pets? 1,104. What Does a President’s Choice of Pet — or Choice Not to Have a Pet at All — Say About Him? 1,105. What Have You Learned From Animals? 1,106. What Are Your Thoughts on Cats? 1,107. Would You Want to Hang Out at a Cat Cafe? 1,108. Why Do We Love Watching Animal Videos So Much? 1,109. What Are Your Most Memorable Stories About Wildlife?
Exercise & Health
1,110. Do You Like to Exercise? 1,111. Do You Get Enough Exercise? 1,112. How Has Exercise Changed Your Health, Your Body or Your Life? 1,113. How Much Do You Think About Your Weight? 1,114. How Often Do You Engage in ‘Fat Talk’? 1,115. What Are Your Healthy Habits? 1,116. What Health Tips Have Worked for You? 1,117. What Rules Do You Have for Staying Healthy? 1,118. What Habits Do You Have, and Have You Ever Tried to Change Them? 1,119. Do You Have Any Bad Health Habits? 1,120. How Careful Are You in the Sun? 1,121. Do We Worry Too Much About Germs? 1,122. How Well Do You Sleep? 1,123. What Are Your Sleep Habits? 1,124. How Much of a Priority Do You Make Sleep? 1,125. Do You Get Enough Sleep? 1,126. Should the Drinking Age Be Lowered? 1,127. Should the Legal Age to Purchase Tobacco Be Raised From 18 to 21? 1,128. Should E-Cigarettes Be Banned for Teenagers? 1,129. Do You Vape? Is Smoking Still a Problem Among Teenagers? 1,130. Are Antismoking Ads Effective? 1,131. Should Marijuana Be Legal? 1,132. Should Students Be Required to Take Drug Tests? 1,133. Should Middle School Students Be Drug Tested? 1,134. How Common Is Drug Use in Your School? 1,135. If You Drink or Use Drugs, Do Your Parents Know? 1,136. Is Your School a ‘Party School’? 1,137. Have You Been To Parties That Have Gotten Out of Control? 1,138. Why Is Binge Drinking So Common Among Young People in the United States? 1,139. Should Universities Work to Curtail Student Drinking? 1,140. Would You Ever Go Through Hazing to Be Part of a Group?
Civics & History
Guns & the Justice System
1,141. What Are Some Answers to America’s Gun Violence? 1,142. What Should Lawmakers Do About Guns and Gun Violence? 1,143. Can High School Students Make a Real Impact on the Problem of Gun Violence in the United States? 1,144. What Do You Think of the #WalkUpNotOut Movement? 1,145. How Should We Prevent Future Mass Shootings? 1,146. Are We Becoming ‘Numb’ to School Shootings? 1,147. Would You Feel Safer With Armed Guards Patrolling Your School? 1,148. Should Teachers Be Armed With Guns? 1,149. Should Guns Be Permitted on College Campuses? 1,150. Would Arming College Students Help Prevent Sexual Assaults on Campus? 1,151. Where Do You Stand on Unconcealed Handguns? 1,152. What Is Your Relationship With Guns? 1,153. What Should Be the Purpose of Prison? 1,154. Should Prisons Offer Incarcerated People Education Opportunities? 1,155. Should Felons Be Allowed to Vote After They Have Served Their Time? 1,156. Should the United States Stop Using the Death Penalty? 1,157. What Do You Think of the Police Tactic of Stop-and-Frisk? 1,158. When Should Juvenile Offenders Receive Life Sentences? 1,159. Do Rich People Get Off Easier When They Break the Law? 1,160. Should All Police Officers Wear Body Cameras? 1,161. Should Prostitution Be Legal? 1,162. Should Physician-Assisted Suicide Be Legal in Every State? 1,163. Should Terminally Ill Patients Be Allowed to Die on Their Own Terms?
1,164. How Strong Is Your Faith in American Democracy? 1,165. Is America Headed in the Right Direction? 1,166. What Do American Values Mean to You? 1,167. Do You Think It Is Important for Teenagers to Participate in Political Activism? 1,168. How Would You Like to Help Our World? 1,169. What Cause Would Get You Into the Streets? 1,170. Have Your Ever Taken Part in a Protest? 1,171. What Would You Risk Your Life For? 1,172. When Have You Spoken Out About Something You Felt Had to Change? 1,173. Should the Voting Age Be Lowered to 16? 1,174. Should Voting Be Mandatory? 1,175. Does Voting for a Third-Party Candidate Mean Throwing Away Your Vote? 1,176. Do You Consider Yourself a Republican, Democrat or Independent? 1,177. If You Were Governor of Your State, How Would You Spend a Budget Surplus? 1,178. What Local Problems Do You Think Your Mayor Should Try to Solve? 1,179. Should the United States Care That It’s Not No. 1? 1,180. Do You Trust Your Government? 1,181. What Do You Think of President Trump’s Use of Twitter? 1,182. What Do You Think the Role of the First Lady — or First Spouse — Should Be Today? 1,183. What Is More Important: Our Privacy or National Security? 1,184. When Is the Use of Military Force Justified? 1,185. When Should Countries Negotiate With Their Traditional Enemies? 1,186. Should the U.S. Be Spying on Its Friends? 1,187. Should Countries Pay Ransoms to Free Hostages Held by Terrorists? 1,188. What Responsibility Do We Have to Take In Refugees From Global Humanitarian Crises? 1,189. Should Millions of Undocumented Immigrants Be Allowed to Live in the U.S. Without Fear of Getting Deported? 1,190. Should the Government Allow ‘Dreamers’ to Stay in the U.S. Without Fear of Being Deported? 1,191. Are Children of Illegal Immigrants Entitled to a Public Education? 1,192. What Do We Owe Our Veterans?
History & News
1,193. What Event in the Past Do You Wish You Could Have Witnessed? 1,194. What Are the Most Important Changes, in Your Life and in the World, in the Last Decade? 1,195. What National or International Events That You Lived Through Do You Remember Best? 1,196. What Famous Figure From the Past Fascinates You Most? 1,197. What Does Dr. King’s Legacy Mean to You? 1,198. Who Do You Think Has Been ‘Overlooked’ By History? 1,199. What Recent Events Will Most Likely Be Featured in History Museums Someday? 1,200. Why Should We Care About Events in Other Parts of the World? 1,201. What News Stories Are You Following? 1,202. How Do You Get Your News? 1,203. Are You Having More Conversations With Friends and Family About Politics? 1,204. What Is Your Reaction to the Recent Flood of Breaking Political News? 1,205. Do You Ever Get the ‘Bad News Blues’? 1,206. Are We Being Bad Citizens If We Don’t Keep Up With the News? 1,207. Is Your Online World Just a ‘Filter Bubble’ of People With the Same Opinions? 1,208. Do Your Friends on Social Media All Have the Same Political Opinions You Do? 1,209. How Do You Know if What You Read Online Is True? 1,210. Do You Think You Can Tell When Something Is ‘Fake News’? 1,211. Do You Believe in Online Conspiracy Theories? 1,212. What Are Your Experiences With Internet-Based Urban Legends? 1,213. Are Political Memes Dangerous to Democracy? 1,214. Should National Monuments Be Protected by the Government? 1,215. Should Confederate Statues Be Removed or Remain in Place? 1,216. What Supreme Court Cases, Now or in the Past, Interest You Most? 1,217. Should Free Speech Protections Include Self Expression That Discriminates? 1,218. Is It O.K. to Refuse to Serve Same-Sex Couples Based on Religious Beliefs? 1,219. What Will You Remember About President Obama and His Legacy?
Many of the questions above are still open to comment, though not all.
A few questions have been removed from this list since it was originally published.
Teachers, please let us know in the comments how you use this list, or any of our previous prompts lists, in your classes.
2023-2024 Common Application Essay Prompts: Examples & Templates
If you are looking for guidance on the Common Application, including Common App essay prompts and essay examples and templates as well as answers to the most common questions about the Common App, then you’ve come to the right place.
This Application Prep guide is fully updated with the 2022-2023 Common App application and essay prompts .
Don’t forget to access our Common App essay template we created to help you write unique and memorable essays. Keep reading for breakdowns and examples for each essay prompt .
Before you dive in, it’s important to understand that all of the colleges that use the Common App each receive thousands of applications every year. To help you stand out from the crowd, you need to demonstrate a clear sense of self , strong life experience , and exemplary communication skills .
Our ‘full student’ coaching process does exactly that. If you’re not working with a coach, be sure to read the Self-Awareness , Goal-Setting , and Narrative Communication Skills Guides.
The Narrative Communication Approach™ is a particularly useful storytelling framework that helps you tell a clear and concise story, while creating an emotional connection with the reader. All Common App essay prompt examples use this approach.
In this guide, we’ll give you Common App essay prompt templates and examples that use this approach to help make your essay deeply personal and unique — which is exactly what the admissions counselors at all the colleges and universities you’re applying to look for.
If you’re serious about creating a standout Common App and getting into all the colleges on your list and reaching your fullest post-secondary potential, connect with a coach . It’s never too early to receive coaching.
Table of Contents
- Common Application Overview : Application Requirements; Deadlines; Fees; Essays; Recommendations; and More.
- 2022-2023 Common App : Personal essay prompts; Question breakdowns and tips; Question templates and examples; and More.
- Common App FAQs : What is the Common App used for?; Why do I need to write a Common App?; What Common App Essay should I choose?; Do I need a recommendation?; and More.
How to Write the Common App (Overview): What You Need To Know
What is the common app.
Common App is a free application tool that’s designed to simplify the application process for first year and transfer students as they apply and get into college. Common App has more than 900 member colleges and universities around the world.
With the Common App, you only need to complete one application to apply to up to 20 colleges and/or universities at once .
Common App Deadlines
The 2022-2023 Common App opens on August 1, 2022 . While there is no specific deadline for the Common App, you MUST submit it before the deadline of the college/university you’re applying to (and whether you are applying for early admission or regular admission).
You can find each school’s app deadlines by going to the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and clicking the ‘Application Requirements’ button to see the date requirements for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list.
COACH’S TIP : Common App recently announced that the 2022-2023 application is the same as the 2021-2022 application, including the Personal Essay prompts. We recommend that you get started as soon as possible, so you have plenty of time to make your app and essay perfect. If you’re eager to get started on the app before it opens on August 1, you can start it early (the 2022-2023 essay prompts are the same as the 2021-2022 prompts), and then simply transfer everything over to the new app when it opens.
While the Common App is designed to help make the admissions process easier, it isn’t required when applying to college/university . There are other platforms available (such as the Coalition Application or the Universal Application) and most schools allow students to apply directly through their websites or unique application system.
Common App Cost
The Common App is free. However, some schools have their own application fee , so be sure to do your research before applying. Almost half of Common App member schools don’t charge an app fee, and others offer a fee waiver for those who qualify. Check out the ‘Application Requirements’ button on your Dashboard to see the fees for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list.
Common App Recommenders
The Common App also has its own recommenders platform for teachers, counselors, and other people you’ve asked to write a letter of recommendation. Applicants simply add the person and they get an invitation to complete the form. With Common App, you can ask your teacher, counselor, etc. to write one letter of recommendation , and send it to all the schools you’re applying to. Learn more in this Common App Recommender guide .
REMEMBER : Whether or not you need a recommendation letter depends on the individual school you’re applying to . The type of recommendation letter (e.g. counselor recommendation, teacher recommendation, other type of recommendation, etc.) also varies from school to school. Some schools require recommenders, others don’t, and for others it’s optional (you can check individual schools’ requirements on the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and click the ‘Application Requirements’ button).
We know that the Common App can seem overwhelming at first, so we’ve put together a list of FAQs about the Common App below .
Common App Components
When you use the Common App, you need to complete 2 main parts:
- Common App Common Questions & Personal Essays : Basic background information such as family, education, testing, activities, and courses/grades (if applicable). There are also personal essays, which can be found in the Writing section of the Common App. You will see 7 essay prompts, and you must choose ONE to write an essay of maximum 650 words based on that. Here’s a list of the 2021-2022 personal essay prompts (keep reading for a full breakdown and essay examples for all the prompts).
- College-Specific Questions and/or Writing Supplements : Some colleges will have their own specific questions, usually a short answer or essay. Click here for each college’s writing requirements . Similarly, some colleges will have a writing supplement that is not completed in the Common App profile. ALWAYS research each college to determine if they have an additional writing requirement.
Here are the 7 sections that make up the Common App Common Questions & Personal Essays section of your application (part #1 above):
- Profile : Personal information like your name, date of birth, address, contact details, demographics, language, nationality, etc.
- Family : Parent information, sibling information, etc.
- Education : Current high school, past schools, colleges/universities, grades, current/recent courses, future plans, etc.
- Testing : Standardized test scores, international applicant testing, etc. For more information on this section, check out this page .
- Activities : Discussing relevant (up to 10) extracurriculars, like arts, clubs, community engagement, hobbies, work/volunteering etc. (keep reading for a template and example for the Common App Activities List ).
- (a) Personal Essay , answering ONE of the 7 prompts (keep reading for breakdowns, templates, and examples for each);
- (b) Additional Information, where you discuss any impacts of community disruptions and how it has impacted you.
- Courses and Grades : List courses and the grades you received for each. Note that not all colleges require this list (you can check if it is required in the My Colleges tab of the app).
REMEMBER : As mentioned above, each college/university has their own requirements in addition to the Common App (usually an extra set of questions or an additional application or a writing supplemental). Make sure you do your research and complete all components of the application for each school you’re applying to. Keep track of all the requirements for each college/university you’re applying to here .
We know that this process can seem really overwhelming and stressful. Just remember — you don’t have to go through this alone! Our Youth Coaches™ have helped hundreds of students complete and submit the Common App and get into their top choice schools. Connect with a coach now for support.
Ace your Common App & Personal Essay.
Common App Expert and Youth Coach™
2022-2023 Common Application Essay Prompts & Examples
In this section, we’ll go through all the Common App Essays prompts and provide breakdowns, templates, and examples for each question.
REMEMBER : You only need to write ONE ESSAY that’s 650 words (and no less than 250 words). The essay prompts for the 2022-2023 Common App can be found here .
Common App Essay Prompts – Overview
Here are the instructions for all of the 2022-2023 Common App essay prompts:
The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. (The application won’t accept a response shorter than 250 words.)
The Common App Personal Essays allow app reviewers to get to know you on a deeper, more personal level beyond your courses, grades and test scores.
Your essay is are your one chance to make a personal connection with the reviewers and showcase your interests, skills, experiences, and plans for the future.
Put simply, the Personal Essay allows you to show what makes you, you . It’s arguably the most important part of your application.
A unique and memorable essay can help your application stand out. It should also be specific enough that it paints an accurate picture of who you are , while also appealing to all the schools you’re applying to (even if you’re applying for different programs or specializations).
A great way to show exactly who you are while connecting with a bunch of different audiences is through storytelling . This will help you write a memorable essay about all sorts of topics, while creating an emotional connection through character development , deep personal insights , and learning outcomes .
We recommend using our Narrative Communication Approach. This effective structure uses storytelling to connect emotionally with the reader and effectively communicate your interests, skills, goals, and experiences. Learn more about it our Narrative Communication™ blog here .
We know that this essay can seem really overwhelming at first. But remember — you aren’t alone! Youthfully Coaches have helped hundreds of students ace their Common App and achieve more than they ever thought possible. Connect with a coach now for support with your application and Personal Essay.
Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 1
Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 1
This question asks you to talk about that one thing that makes you unique .
The question is intentionally left open-ended so you can choose any aspect of your life that makes you completely different from anyone else. It can be anything from a hobby, academic interest, personal passion, or favorite pastime, to a formative experience or event in your life or an extracurricular activity you’ve been doing for years.
When choosing what to discuss, take time to think about something that is so meaningful that it’s inseparable from who you are as a person. Maybe you have been playing tennis since you were 5 years old and you’re now a pro, or you immigrated to the US and were so inspired by your parents’ successful small business that you started your own. Or maybe you went on a trip when you were younger and this ignited your love of studying other cultures and languages. Focus on that defining thing that makes you who you are.
Once you’ve decided what you want to discuss, communicate how this background, identity, interest, or talent has fundamentally influenced you and changed you as a person. Highlight your personality using this topic, and focus on showcasing what’s important to you , as well as your interests, skills, and goals wherever possible.
Use storytelling to discuss the evolution of this meaningful thing, like how it started, how it has changed over time, what it has meant in your life etc., while giving enough detail that the reader can go on the journey with you and connect with you emotionally (check out the template below and learn how to create the perfect story using this 5-step process ).
The key is to make the app reviewer feel what you feel so they can understand the significance of the background, identity, interest, or talent you’re talking about. The goal is to make them care about it just as much as you do .
No matter what meaningful aspect of your life you choose, the point is that you show the admissions committee that you have self-awareness and can identify your interest, skills, and strengths. They want to see that you have gone on a journey of personal growth that has led you to where you are today (and that it will help you as you continue on to post-secondary studies). If you’ve completed our Student Identity Blueprint , you already know how your experiences, interests, talents, background and identity makes you unique, so this will help you out a lot for this essay prompt. If you haven’t completed your Blueprint, connect with a coach to get started.
Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 1
As mentioned above, all the templates and examples in this App Prep Guide follow our Narrative Communication Approach™. This structure uses storytelling to create an emotional connection with the reader, while showcasing character development, deep learning outcomes, and personal insight. The result? Truly unique, authentic, and memorable essays. Check out our Narrative Communication Approach Guide to learn more.
Your essay should have these 5 components to help make it unique and memorable:
- State the background, identity, interest, or talent that is an inseparable part of who you are.
- State the background, identity, interest, or talent that is an inseparable part of who you are. Provide some details about where it began and what you felt when it did. Was there a specific event or sudden realization that occurred? An evolution over time?
- Discuss how you developed your background, identity, interest, or talent over time, as well as how it became an inseparable part of who you are. Talk about what you would be if this one thing didn’t exist and talk about how it set you on the path to self-discovery.
- Discuss how it has impacted your life, drawing on experiences wherever possible. Provide examples of how you’ve put your background, identity, interest, or talent into practice in your daily life and how it has evolved or changed over time.
- Discuss what you’ve learned about yourself because of this background, identity, interest, or talent. Try to make your learning outcomes as unique as possible. Then, briefly state how this background, identity, interest, or talent will impact your goals and aspirations going forward.
If you need support finding a topic and writing an essay for this 2022-2023 Common App essay prompt, connect with a coach for support .
Common App Essay Example: Prompt 1
Here’s a Common App essay prompt example for this question.
REMEMBER : This is an EXAMPLE ONLY and is NOT meant for you to copy. Why? First and foremost, this is plagiarism and is a serious offense . Plagiarizing these essays will result in immediate disqualification from the admissions process . This can be easily detected using technology and application reviewers are usually trained and/or able to spot when an application isn’t original and does not align with an applicant’s background, personality, values, etc.
Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 2
Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 2
You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle themselves during difficult situations and when something doesn’t go as planned.
The obstacle you talk about in this essay can be a specific event from your personal or academic life, or it can be more broad, like a challenge you continually face , like a fear of public speaking, or a sudden realization , like figuring out you didn’t want to follow the plans your parents had for your future.
The app reviewers don’t care so much about the exact obstacle that happened. What’s really important is how you react, how you face adversity , and how you use your problem solving skills to find a solution. They want to know what this obstacle or challenge taught you, how you used this as an opportunity for personal growth and learning , and how this ultimately made you a better person and student.
When writing your story, make sure you describe your emotions as much as you can. You want the app reviewers to go on this journey with you and understand how you felt when this obstacle or challenge happened, and then how you felt when you overcame it and used it as an opportunity for growth . Write your story in a way that the reader walks in your shoes.
Finally, reflect on why this obstacle was so influential in your life and how these lessons have made you better. Did it make you discover something about yourself that you didn’t know? Did it ignite an interest that set you on a new path? Did you develop key real-world skills when trying to solve it? Then, wrap up by discussing how you will use the lessons from this challenge as you set and achieve your goals in the future.
If you aren’t sure which challenge, setback, or failure to talk about in your essay, connect with a coach anytime for support.
Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 2
Your essay should have these 5 components to help make your story unique and memorable:
- Capture the reader’s attention and give a preview of what’s to come.
- Provide some background about yourself and discuss who you were and what you believed in before this obstacle occurred. State what the obstacle (challenge, setback, or failure) was. Paint the picture of the situation you were in, focusing on the emotions you felt when this obstacle occurred as well as your initial reaction.
- Talk about the turning point, addressing how you faced the obstacle and what you did to resolve it. Discuss any trial and error moments that occured. Go through your journey to solve this problem.
- Outline how this obstacle turned out in the end (either positive or negative). If possible, talk about quantifiable outcomes, such as hours worked/volunteered, money raised, people impacted, etc.
- Discuss what you learned because of this obstacle. Why was this lesson important? How did it change you as a person? Finally, briefly talk about how you will use this lesson going forward and how it has already (and will contribute) to your success (personally, professionally, and academically).
Common App Essay Example: Prompt 2
REMEMBER : This is an EXAMPLE ONLY and is NOT meant for you to copy.
Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 3
Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 3
This essay prompt is definitely one of the harder ones out of the 7.
The app reviewers want to see that you can think critically and use logic and the evidence you have to form opinions for yourself (rather than being influenced and coerced by others).
They also want to see that you’re willing to adapt and change your views as you learn more about yourself and experience the world.
The belief or idea that you discuss doesn’t have to be extremely complex, like the meaning of life. It can be something as simple as you believing that it’s too risky to try something outside of your comfort zone or that you have to follow in the same footsteps as your parents. The important thing is that this belief or idea is something that you believed was true for a long time, until something happened that changed your outlook and allowed you to evolve as a person. If you’re having trouble coming up with a belief or idea to discuss, have a look at the Values section of your Student Identity Blueprint ™ (if you haven’t filled out your Blueprint yet, click here to get started ).
COACH’S TIP : While topics like religion, politics, race, and other social issues are popular topics of discussion, avoid talking about these topics in your essay. Everyone has strong beliefs about these topics, and the last thing you want to do is offend anyone or start an argument. Choose topics that are more unique to your life , experiences, skills, and interests, and NOT broad, touchy subjects .
Also, while you want to effectively communicate your belief/idea before and after you challenged or questioned it, you don’t want to come across as too preachy or difficult. Everyone has their own beliefs, and if you seem completely unaccepting of others’ views, then this will actually hurt your chances of getting into the schools you’re applying to.
Instead, focus on what the experience taught you and how you evolved as a person . Create a story that emphasizes the emotions you felt when this event happened, and how you invited the opportunity for growth and change .
The most important aspect of this essay is talking about what you learned because you were willing to go beyond what you believe or what you were taught, and how accepting new perspectives actually made you a stronger person both now and in the future.
Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 3
- State the belief or idea you challenged or questioned. Where did this belief come from? Why did you believe it to be true? Be as specific as possible, painting the ‘before’ picture (i.e. before the event that made you question it occurred).
- Discuss what made you question or challenge this belief. This can be a specific event, discussion you had with someone, a gradual change over time, etc. Explain why this caused so much doubt to happen, and what your initial reaction to this doubt was (explaining the emotion you felt wherever possible).
- Talk about your changing views on this belief or idea after the event you discussed in the Catalyst section (this is the ‘after’ picture you discussed in the Context section). If your old belief/idea was replaced with a new belief/idea, briefly explain what the new one is here.
- Talk about what you learned by challenging this belief/opinion and how it changed your outlook going forward. Provide some learning outcomes about how it impacted you personally, academically, and/or professionally.
If you need support finding a topic and writing an essay for this 2022-2023 Common App prompt, connect with a coach for support .
Common App Essay Example: Prompt 3
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Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 4
Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 4
This question is a bit newer than the others, first appearing in the 2021-2022 Common App.
The theme of this prompt is gratitude — for being inspired, being put outside your comfort zone, learning something new, and getting excited about your future.
The focus of this essay isn’t gushing about how amazing the person who did something for you is, and how nice they are for doing it. Just explain who the person is and what the act of kindness was.
Instead, the app reviews want a personal story that communicates how this act of kindness initiated personal growth and self-discovery , as well as how and why it was so unexpected. Spend time thinking outside of the box and make the act as unique as possible. Go beyond saying someone was your mentor or helped you with a school project, and use an act of kindness that had a long-lasting impact .
A key phrase in this prompt that students often overlook is “in a surprising way” . While the experience doesn’t have to be huge, what’s important is the impact it had on you (as well as the emotions you felt as it was happening).
This can be something you learned that made you change your outlook on life, ignited your passion for something, or set you on the path you’re on now. This act of kindness should have a long lasting effect on your life and fundamentally change you in some way.
COACH’S TIP : Your topic also doesn’t have to be positive — someone could have done something that seemed negative at the time, but actually turned out for the better in the end (keep reading to see the example). This would be a great way to bring in the ‘surprise’ element of this question.
Finally, when talking about how this act of kindness affected you, try to draw out personal details about yourself as much as possible.
Here’s an example: A mentor got you a summer internship at your local hospital and this surprised you because you realized that medicine wasn’t for you, even though it’s what your parents expected when they immigrated from China. Then, you decided to pursue your passion for business and start your own non-profit organization so that you could support cancer research because you lost your grandfather to this disease. You were so grateful that this happened because you got to go outside of your comfort zone and combine your love of business and philanthropy. At the same time, you can see all the personal details here — it tells who the you are (from China, in a family of doctors) and your interests (philanthropy), as well as some explanation of your experiences (internships, starting a non-profit) and your skills (leadership, organization, time management).
Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 4
- Give some background about you, like who were before this act of kindness occurred. Imagine this as the ‘before’ scenario.
- Briefly discuss the thing that someone did for you (and who did the action), answering the 5Ws (who, what, when, where, why).
- Describe what happened as a result of this act of kindness. Tap into your emotions as much as possible (maybe you were surprised, hesitant, etc. when it happened).
- Answer where you’d be if this event hadn’t occurred, and then discuss why you’re so grateful that it did. Talk about the impact of this event, emphasizing why it was so significant in your life, like that you learned about yourself or how it inspired you to explore a new interest. Finally, explain how you will use these lessons going forward (especially in your post-secondary studies).
Common App Essay Example: Prompt 4
Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 5
Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 5
In the other sections of your Common App, you’ve already given the app reviewers a pretty clear picture of what you’ve done, like your grades, courses, extracurriculars, other experiences, etc.
This question is your chance to talk about how this accomplishment, event, or realization has influenced you and made you the person you are today. Remember that these formative events aren’t always obvious — you might not have even realized it was happening!
When thinking about what accomplishment, event, or realization you want to talk about, think about who you are now, asking questions like:
- What’s important to me and why?
- What do I genuinely enjoy doing?
- What am I good at? What could I improve on?
- Who is most important in my life?
- What am I proud of?
- Have I changed over the last few years? If so, how?
Once you’ve answered these questions, think about that specific thing which initiated it and where it all began. This is the accomplishment, event, or realization that you should focus on in your essay.
COACH’S TIP : According to Common App, this is the second most popular essay prompt that 23.7% of students answered for the 2021-2022 Common App. To make sure your essay stands out from the crowd, choose a topic that is unique and isn’t overdone, like the death of a family member, a trip somewhere, or an injury. Think outside the box and come up with an accomplishment, event, or realization that’s unexpected. If you are discussing something a bit more common, try to make your learning outcomes as unique as possible.
Once you’ve narrowed down your topic, focus the majority of the essay on 2-3 learning outcomes that allowed you to grow personally, academically, and professionally.
These learning outcomes should be centered around a common theme, while focusing inward on you as a person along with the growth of your interests, skills, goals, and more. Next, turn the focus outward and talk about how this growth has changed how you interact with others and view the world around you. Emphasize how this has changed how you view and interact with the world and how it has impacted your life for the better.
Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 5
Your essay should have these 5 components :
- Provide some background info about you, like who were before this accomplishment, event, or realization occurred, and exactly where you were in life. Imagine this as the ‘before’ scenario.
- Introduce the accomplishment, event, or realization that occurred and give some details about what happened. Explain what it was about this experience that made it such a good opportunity for growth and learning.
- Discuss what kind of growth and/or change this accomplishment, event, or realization initiated, and who you became during and after it happened (this is the ‘after’ picture you introduced in the Context section). Emphasize your emotions as much as possible as you discuss your growth and change (e.g. were you afraid? Hesitant? Excited? Inspired?)
- Provide some details about what you learned about yourself and others because of this accomplishment, event, or realization. Focus on 1-2 deep learning outcomes that go beyond the surface level, and emphasize how you will apply what you learned both now and in the future.
Common App Essay Example: Prompt 5
Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 6
Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 6
This essay prompt asks you to take any topic (simple or complex) and explain why it fascinates you.
The possibilities for the subject of the essay are endless — it can be anything from a hobby you’re obsessed with, like surfing to fixing up old cars, to a theory you learned in science class, like evolution, or a question you always think about, like whether there’s life on other planets.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with this question. You can take a seemingly simple topic and use your creativity to make it unique and interesting .
The point of this question is to show the reviewers who you are, what your thought processes are, what you’re interested in, what you enjoy doing, and more. The important thing isn’t so much as what you are so engaged with, but why it’s so engaging.
To communicate why this topic, concept, or idea is so engaging to you, you should use storytelling to paint a clear picture of where this interest started, how it evolved, and how it has impacted your life so much. Be as descriptive as possible when you explain the topic, concept, or idea. Imagine that you’re trying to explain this topic to a friend or family member and you want to get them as excited about it as you are by using detail and emotion .
The final part of this essay is showing how you have evolved your exploration of this topic, concept, or idea over time. You want to show that you are open to continual learning as well as new perspectives and ideas. Emphasize how your interest in this topic has changed over time and how that has fuelled your interest in it even more.
Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 6
- Introduce your topic, idea, or concept, giving some helpful background information so the reviewers understand exactly what you’re talking about (What is it?; When did it start?; What’s so special about it?, Etc.). Discuss when you first became interested in this topic, idea, or concept, and what was so special about it that captivated all your time and energy.
- Discuss a turning point when the topic, concept, or idea began to change your life, and how this set you on a journey of self-discovery.
- Explain how your interest in this topic, idea, or concept has grown over time and how it influences you in your daily life. Talk about how you continue to explore this topic in your life and your interactions with others.
- Discuss what your exploration of this topic, concept, or idea has taught you and how it has changed you as a person. Think about who you’d be if you hadn’t become engaged in it, and how it has impacted your personal and academic life. Wrap up the essay but stating how you will continue to explore and engage with this topic, concept, or idea in the future.
Common App Essay Example: Prompt 6
Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 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.
Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 7
This is the most popular Common App essay prompt, with 24.1% of students choosing it on the 2021-2022 Common App.
This question is probably the most popular because it allows you to use an essay you’ve already written — meaning you have to do less work. Don’t be fooled though, the app reviewers know this , so they’ll likely evaluate the essay a bit harder.
We highly recommend that you stick with one of the other prompts if you can.
Why? The Common App essay prompts are designed to allow you to show your personality, identity, interests, skills, and goals through storytelling. They give the app reviewers the chance to understand what makes you unique as well the lessons and experiences you’ve had so far.
Each prompt targets a different aspect of your life and personality.
The takeaway is that the essay you already have prepared probably wasn’t written with the same goals as the Common App essays ask of students. You might have written it for a class or in your spare time, and while it might show glimpses of who you are, it’s possible that it completely misses the mark. If this is the case, the app reviewers won’t understand you fully and get a clear picture of you beyond your grades and extracurriculars, and this could hurt your chances of acceptance.
If you do have an essay you are thinking about using for this section, we recommend that you connect with a coach to make sure it has all the components that the app reviewers are looking for.
Get into the college of your dreams.
Common App FAQs
You asked, and we answered!
Here are the most frequently asked questions about the Common App .
- What is Common App used for?
Common App is a free application tool that’s designed to simplify the application process for first year and transfer students as they apply and get into college.
With the Common App, you only need to complete one application for multiple colleges and universities (Common App has more than 900 member colleges/universities around the world).
When you create your account, you can complete your application, keep track of college-specific requirements, fees, deadlines, etc. as well as sending requests for recommenders and financial aid.
The Common App makes the process much easier by having everything you need for your applications, all in one place .
Who uses Common App?
The Common App is used by first-year students (both domestic and international) as well as transfer students (and their recommenders ) to apply to over 900 member colleges and universities around the world.
How does the Common App work?
Applicants create a Common App account and then fill out one application that can be sent to up to 20 colleges and/or universities .
Each application includes 7 sections : Profile, Family, Education, Testing, Writing (Personal Essay and Additional Information), and Courses and Grades ( see the section above for a full breakdown of each ).
Once you submit the Common App (and any other college-specific requirements like writing supplements or recommendations), each college/university assesses the application individually and makes their admission decision.
When do I apply for Common App?
The 2022-2023 Common App opens on August 1, 2022 .
You must submit the Common Application before the deadline of the college/university you’re applying to (and whether you are applying for early admission or regular admission).
You can search for each school’s app deadlines by going to the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and clicking the ‘Application Requirements’ button to see the requirements for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list.
Is the Common App required when applying to college?
The Common App is designed to help make the admissions process easier, but it isn’t required when applying to college and/or university .
There are other platforms available (such as the Coalition Application or the Universal Application) and most schools allow students to apply directly through their websites or unique application system.
Check the requirements of the specific program you’re applying to and make sure you have all the application requirements covered.
Is the Common App worth it?
You might be wondering exactly why colleges and universities ask prospective students to complete the Common App. Trust us, it’s definitely worth the time .
Why? Apart from making the process easier by requiring one application for all the schools you’re applying to (plus any additional requirements or writing supplements), the Common App allows app reviewers to get to know you on a deeper, more personal level beyond your courses, grades and test scores.
If you spend the time writing a unique and memorable Common App, you can make your application more competitive and increase your chances of getting into your top choice college/university — and your future is definitely worth the extra effort !
How long do Common Apps take?
While there’s no exact amount of time to complete the Common App, you should give yourself about 4 weeks for the whole process (brainstorm, write, proofread, final review, and submit).
This is definitely an application you do not want to rush! Take your time and we promise it will pay off.
How many schools can you apply to on Common App?
Common App allows students to add up to 20 colleges from one account.
Do all colleges use and accept the Common Application?
College App has over 900 partner colleges and universities around the world, including 60+ international universities and 250+ public colleges and universities.
Not all colleges accept the Common Application. Around 600+ out of 2,400 colleges in the United States use Common App.
How much is the Common App?
Common App is free. However, each school has its own application fee , so be sure to do your research before applying.
Almost half of Common App member schools don’t charge an app fee , and others offer a fee waiver for those who qualify.
You can find each school’s application fee by going to the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and clicking the ‘Application Requirements’ button to see the requirements for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list.
Do I need a recommendation for all schools or just some?
Whether or not you need a recommendation letter depends on the individual school you’re applying to . The type of recommendation letter (e.g. counselor recommendation, teacher recommendation, other type of recommendation, etc.) also varies from school to school.
Some schools require a recommender, others don’t, and for others it’s optional.
You can ask your teacher, counselor, etc. to write one letter of recommendation , and you can send this same letter to all the schools you’re applying to.
Make sure you check each school’s requirements (go to the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and click the ‘Application Requirements’ button to see the requirements for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list).
How do I send a Common App recommendation?
Once you’ve created your Common App account, you can add recommenders to your application by clicking on the ‘My Colleges’ tab and then clicking on the name of the college on the left side of the page. There, you’ll see “Recommenders and FERPA” in the dropdown menu.
Then, sign the release form and click the “Invite Recommenders” button. Common App will email your recommender with instructions on how to complete their letter for you.
Invite a recommender for every school you want to send a letter to. The recommender’s letter will be sent directly to the school.
How do I submit the Common App?
Here’s a breakdown of how to complete your Common App, so you can make sure you don’t miss anything. If you have any questions about this process, connect with a coach anytime for support.
Step 1 : Create a Common App Account by clicking here . Then, select what type of applicant you are (first year, transfer, education professional, or parent) and insert your email, create a password, and then fill out the information it asks (name, birthday, etc.).
Step 2 : Once you log in, click on the ‘College Search’ tab at the top of the page and type in each college you plan on applying to. Click the + (add) button for each one. These will appear in the ‘My Colleges’ tab at the top of the page when you’re done. Explore colleges here .
At the top right corner of the ‘College Search’ page, you will see a button for ‘Application Requirements’. Here, you can type in each college you want to apply to, and then get a quick snapshot of the specific deadlines, fees, Common App requirements (like if you need a Personal Essay), standardized tests, etc. If you want a more detailed breakdown for each college, go to ‘My Colleges’ and click on the specific college you’re looking for.
Step 3 : When you’ve completed your college list, click on the ‘Common App’ tab and complete all this information (keep reading for a detailed breakdown of each section of the app).
Step 4 : Complete the Common App question, including the Personal Essay from the list of Common App essay prompts.
Step 5 : Check and see whether the colleges you’re applying to have any other writing requirements or supplements. If they do, make sure to complete those as well.
Step 6 : Review your entire application.
Step 7 : Pay the fee (if applicable) and submit the application.
REMEMBER : The above steps are for first year applicants . If you’re a transfer student, learn more about the application and how to submit it here . If you’re an international student, learn how to complete and submit your application here .
How many Common App essays are required for 2022-2023?
You must write an essay on ONE out of the 7 Common App essay prompts.
Before getting started on your essay, check out the essay prompts breakdowns, templates, and examples we provided earlier on in this guide to learn how to write a memorable and unique essay.
What Common App essay should I choose?
A lot of students ask our Youth Coaches which Common App essay they should write .
With 7 prompts, it can be super tough to choose, especially when there is more than one you know you could write a really strong essay for.
As a first step, we always tell our students to read through all the questions at once. Is there a question that sticks out to you right away? If not, go through each and make some quick bullet points under each one.
When thinking about what prompt to choose, ask yourself these questions:
- What aspects of my personality do I want to highlight in my application?
- What are the top 3 things I want to showcase about myself in this application? Which prompt can help me do that?
- What is the thing that makes me most unique? Which prompt will give me the chance to talk about this more and differentiate myself from other applicants?
- Will this question paint a clear picture of who I am, and my experiences, skills, values, and goals?
- Do I have a specific experience, interest, belief, hobby, etc. that fits in perfectly with one of the prompts?
- Have I learned something about myself recently that has changed my outlook on life? Which prompt will allow me to talk about this more?
- Is there something about myself that I feel I haven’t discussed enough in the other parts of my application? Which prompt will help me highlight that specific thing in my Personal Essay?
If you need help deciding which prompt to choose, remember that our Youth Coaches are always here to help !
Which Common App prompt is most popular?
According to Common App, 68.9% of students pick 1 of 3 Common App essay prompts .
The most popular is Prompt #7 (“Share an essay on any topic of your choice…”), with 24.1% of students choosing it on the 2021-2022 Common App.
Followed up Prompt #5 (“Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself and others”) with 23.7% . In third is Prompt #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?) with 21.1% of applicants picking it.
Prompt #7 is probably the most popular because it allows you to use an essay you’ve already written — meaning you have to do less work. Don’t be fooled though, the app reviewers know this , so they’ll probably evaluate the essay a bit harder.
But remember, just because these three prompts are the most popular DOESN’T mean you have to choose one of them.
In fact, if you can create a well written, unique, and compelling essay on one of the other 3 essay prompts , it might actually help your chances of standing out from almost 70% of applicants (and increase your chances of admission success ). Sometimes it pays to go against the crowd. 🙂
How long is the Common App essay?
The Common App essay has a limit of 650 words , and must be at least 250 words .
This isn’t very much space, so you should focus on being as clear and concise as possible and cut out repetitive or necessary sentences during the editing process. Check out our templates and examples above to help you write a memorable and unique essay.
Do Common App prompts change?
The Common App essay prompts are very similar year to year , except for a couple changes here and there.
For example, in the 2021-2022 Common App, there was only one prompt that changed from the 2020-2021 Common App (Prompt #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 2022-2023 Common App essay prompts are the same as the 2021-2022 application.
How to complete the Common App activities section?
The Activities section of the Common App allows you to tell the app reviewers more about you beyond your courses and grades .
Here, you can discuss any activities you participate in outside of the classroom, like clubs, community involvement, hobbies, sports, work, volunteering, hobbies, and more.
These will all help give a better sense about what’s important to you , what you’re interested in , and how you’re building important skills like communication, teamwork, leadership, problem solving, etc.
You can include up to 10 activities in this section.
To complete the Common App activities section, go to the ‘Common App’ tab on your Dashboard, and click the ‘Activities’ section on the left side.
The form will ask: “Do you have any activities that you wish to report?”. Answer ‘Yes’.
You will be asked for the following information for each activity :
- Activity Type: Academic, Art, Career Oriented, etc. Choose the one that is most applicable to the specific activity.
- Position Description : List your role and responsibilities (max 50 characters)
- Organization Name (max 100 characters)
- Activity Description: Focus on quantifiable accomplishments, like awards you received, money earned, people you managed, hours worked, etc. (max 150 characters)
- Participation Grade Levels : From grades 9-12 or after you graduated high school
- Timing of Participation : When you took part in this activity (during the school year, during break, or all year).
- Hours spent per week
- Weeks spent per year
- Whether you intend to continue this activity in college
Access our template.
Here’s an example of what this section might look like:
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For over a decade, we have worked with thousands of students to help them achieve more than they ever thought possible.
Our coaches have a strong success rate supporting students as they complete the Common App and get into their top universities and colleges.
Our 1-on-1 Youth Coaching fills that gap that most high schools miss. We can help you build self-awareness through probing questions and assessments, set bigger goals to elevate your extracurriculars and future career plans, and improve skills that matter on supplementary applications, such as interviewing, written communication, critical thinking, and creativity.
We use a coaching methodology, called ‘full student’ development, that’s been proven to increase your chances of admission to top-tier universities and obtaining competitive jobs/internships.
So, what are you waiting for? Fulfill your post-secondary potential with the mentorship and coaching you’ve always wanted!
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Common App - Overview
- What is Common App?
- App Components
Essay Prompts & Examples
- Prompt 1 - Unique Identity
- Prompt 2 - Conflict & Setbacks
- Prompt 3 - Challenge a Belief
- Prompt 4 - Act of Kindness
- Prompt 5 - Personal Growth
- Prompt 6 - Captivating Topic
- Prompt 7 - Other Essay
- Who uses it?
- How does it work?
- When do I apply?
- Is it required when applying to college?
- Is it worth it?
- How long does it take?
- How many schools can I apply for?
- Do all colleges use and accept it?
- How much is it?
- Do I need recommendations?
- How do I send recommendations?
- How do I submit it?
- How many essays do I have to write?
- Which essay prompt do I choose?
- Which prompt is most popular?
- How long is the essay?
- Do prompts change?
- How to complete the Activities section?
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