The Common Application has just released new information about the essay prompts for the 2013-2014 academic year! The Common Application is released in August, but we want to get you this information NOW as we know anxiety runs high on this issue! Don’t panic. We’ve summarized key information YOU will need to know as you prepare for the upcoming admissions season and we will keep you posted with more details on our approach to these essays as we continue to keep our proactive system and see what top colleges do in response:
1. There are NEW essay instructions for the Common Application. They are:
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.)
- Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
- Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
- Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
- Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
We like the first prompt the best, as it will allow for students to write about their academic focus.
2. There is no longer an option for the “topic of your choice,” as was the case in past years.
- This is a big change, as during the 2011-12 admissions cycle, the “topic of your choice” was the most popular of the Common Application’s six prompts as it allowed for some degree of creativity, chosen by 36 percent of all applicants (as reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education: http://chronicle.com/article/Common-Application-Adopts-New/137017/?key=GW5yJwZnYnIXNik2MT1BbG1WbXc4NEh1NSdKOXInblxdFw%3D%3D).
3. As indicated in the new essay prompt instructions, the maximum word limit has increased to 650 words. (The word limit in past years was 500 words.) The web-only Common Application will not accept essays with fewer than 250 words.
- Last year, applicants were able to upload their essays as separate documents and they were free to submit 800 words, 1,200 words, and so forth. However, as The Chronicle of Higher Education has reported, the new Common Application platform will require students to enter their responses into a text window. At the 650-word limit, they will be unable to type any more into the window.
- We are fine with the word count as our students work with us to write concisely.
4. While the statement from the Common Application does not directly address student document uploads, it does speak to the 650-word limit text window. Essay text formatting (italics, underlining, bolding, symbols, etc.) will likely not be accommodated due to the text window.
- Read more on this from The Chronicle of Higher Education here: http://chronicle.com/article/Common-Application-Adopts New/137017/?key=GW5yJwZnYnIXNik2MT1BbG1WbXc4NEh1NSdKOXInblxdFw%3D%3D
5. There is no longer a short answer “Please Elaborate” essay prompt, (colleges will choose whether or not to ask this question, or a version of it, in their writing supplements – we suspect many colleges will ask this on their supplements).
- The Common Application recently clarified this on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/commonapp/posts/10151219380490667
6. The Common Application has implemented these changes to the essay prompts and word limit after receiving input from their Outreach Advisory Committee. We feel sure colleges will speak up, as that committee was a rather small representation.
7. You can read the Common Application official announcement of these changes here: https://m.commonapp.org/CommonApp/Docs/DownloadForms/2013/EssayAnnouncementFinal.pdf
8. We hope the Common Application keeps their “Additional Information” option, as many of our students have a lot more to say! But, if not, we look to the colleges to give more opportunities on their supplements.
Don’t panic, stay tuned. None of these prompts are geared to show love of learning, unfortunately, as this is WHAT admissions officers are really looking for. Our approach remains the same and these questions will be made to work! We feel sure top colleges will add more open-ended questions to their supplements, defeating the very purpose of the Common Application.
What do you think? How will the elimination of the short answer and the introduction of a firm word-limit affect your essay topics? Do you expect that colleges will create supplements to address, and compensate for, these changes in the Common Application?