Mar 31, 2015

The Common Application announces 2015-16 essay prompts

With feedback provided by nearly 6,000 individuals, who participated in a survey conducted earlier this month, the Common Application announced today final language for the 2015-16 essay prompts.  And without further ado, here are the five questions from which applicants using the Common App will be asked to choose to form the basis for their personal statement (new language appears in italics):
  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  4. 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.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
Although minimal, the changes for next year reflect majority opinion from those who took the time to respond to the brief survey circulated within the admissions community.  Of the 5667 “constituent” responses received (not including Common App member institutions), 64 percent came from school counselors, 14 percent from students, 11 percent from independent educational consultants, 4 percent from parents, and 2 percent from community-based organizations.

And collectively, they made their views clear:
  • 82% of members and 90% of constituents agree or strongly agree that the current prompts generate effective essays on the whole
  • 62% of members and 48% of constituents believe the “story/background” prompt is the most effective
  • 76% of members and 44% of constituents would like to see the “place where you’re content” prompt replaced
  • 35% of members and 30% of constituents feel that analytical ability and intellectual curiosity (as a combined percentage) are most the difficult attributes to convey through the current prompts
  • 85% of members and 82% of constituents feel the prompts should be left open to broad interpretation
  • 3% of member respondents suggested “Topic of Your Choice” as a new prompt
  • 6% of constituent respondents suggested “Topic of Your Choice “as a new prompt, with the breakdown as follows: independent educational consultants (47%), community-based organizations (7%), school counselors (5%), parents (2%), other (2%), students (<1 span="">

Beginning next year, Common App members will have the choice to require or not require a personal essay as part of the application for admission.  If the personal essay is required for a particular college, that requirement will be enforced during the submission process.  In other words, students will not be able to submit an application without this particular required element.

And responding to complaints about restrictions in the number of essay versions allowed in previous years, the Common App announced that like all other parts of the applications, “the essay will remain editable for all applicants, at any time.”

The announcement of next year’s essay prompts signals the start of a new year.  College-bound high school students along with those who advise them can look forward to the challenge of coming up with the kinds of personal statements that add dimension to other information provided in the body of the application.

And they have months  to think it over before the Common App comes on line August 1, 2015.

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