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How to Answer Each of the 2021-22 Common App Prompts

by Story2 Staff, on Jul 22, 2021 12:08:39 PM

Here is the full set of essay prompts for 2021-2022 Common App with notes on how to approach each one (for more, download our Ultimate Guide to the Common App 2021-2022 Edition):


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.

This is the most popular Common App prompt and the one most students find easiest to answer.

  • The idea here is to find a STORY that reveals how a background, identity, interest or talent is MEANINGFUL to you. 
  • Start by making a list of the experiences that have shaped you as who you are today.
  • Then, find specific moments of growth and change -- perhaps show how this became meaningful to you, give an example of what meaningful looks like in action, or describe where you may take it in the future. 
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?

This question asks you to reflect on challenges, and show what you learned from them: 

  • Remember: we all have setbacks and failures, so it's ok to talk about them frankly. 
  • Try to focus on the specific lessons you learned from this challenge.  
  • You don't need to wrap it all up in a "happily ever after" ending. 
3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

This question asks you to reflect (look back) on a time when you challenged an (established) belief or idea. 

  • When they ask "what prompted your thinking," can you think of something that happened in the world that caused you to reconsider ideas you previously believed? 
  • And "what was the outcome?" suggests something that you did or said differently as a result of the shift in your beliefs. 
  • Be careful not to get too wrapped up in your thoughts in this question: it's more about how changes in thought drive different actions in the world with other people. 
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?

Another way to ask this question is "Who or what are you grateful for, and how has that gratitude shaped you?" 

  • You can also think about this as an opportunity to talk about an influence, someone who has shaped your way of thinking or being. 
  • Make sure to stick to actions you are grateful for, and then what you DO as a result, not just ideas. 
  • Be careful not to get lost in vague generalizations! 
5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

How has an important event or accomplishment shaped you?

  • This is really another version of Question #1. 
  • Avoid rehashing things from your Activities + Awards.
  • If you do go with an Accomplishment here, show a new "understanding of yourself or others" through what you did as a result of the growth.
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?

This is the essay most likely to send you down a rabbit hole, as it's entirely about ideas in your own mind. Proceed with caution!

  • Don't try to prove you are right and someone else is wrong. 
  • Is there a way for you to show your actions through your thoughts about this topic? 
  • Another way to conquer this one is to focus on where you turn to learn more (the last question in the prompt) -- perhaps an example of you seeking and receiving help on this topic. 
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.

If you like, you can create your own question and answer it here!

  • This should still be a personal essay, an essay about you as a person, so don't send a critical essay from English class.
  • Avoid things that are overly flowery or lost in your own thoughts. 
  • What's the most important thing you want colleges to know about you, and what question can help you answer that?

Go to College Admission Essays Made Easy.

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Topics:college admissionscollege essayscommon app