In the 2014-15 Common App, Member colleges and universities can ask for writing samples on either the Member Questions page or the Writing Supplement. This is a change from last year’s Common App. Some applicants and counselors are finding it tricky to identify all of the writing samples that a college might require, especially those that are triggered based on responses to other questions. The First-Year Writing Requirements Overview posted within the Applicant Help Center will help you identify whether a college requires writing of any kind. It lists all of the colleges and universities that have short answer and/ or essay questions as part of their First-Year application and where those questions appear.
In general, there are three kinds of questions that you may encounter, required, conditional, and optional.
• Required questions are ….well…required. This means that you must provide a response to the question prior to the submission of the application.
• Conditional questions are those that are triggered by the responses to other questions. Some people refer to these ‘stealth’ or ‘hidden’ questions. Colleges are really not trying to hide them from you – they are just conditional based on previous responses. So for example if you indicate that you are applying to a particular college within the university, or to specific major or program, the college may require a short answer or essay about your interest in that program. If you are not applying to that program, it is not necessary for you to see or respond to that question.
• Optional questions are not required. You may decide whether or not you want to provide a response to the question.
In addition to having the questions within the Common App, many colleges post their essay questions (required, conditional, and optional) on their websites so don’t forget to check that out as well to make sure you have everything.
One final suggestion – the college application process can be overwhelming. Take your time with your application and make sure you give yourself enough time to write thoughtful and well-planned essays regardless of the required length. This is your chance to speak to the admissions committees – take advantage of that opportunity.
We are pleased to share the 2015-2016 Essay Prompts with you.
- 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 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?
- 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 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.
- Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
The changes you see reflect the feedback and consensus of nearly 6000 individuals who responded to our recent survey. Among the survey highlights:
• 197 individual Member responses representing 110 Member institutions
• 5667 constituent responses (64% school counselors; 14% students; 11% independent educational consultants; 4% parents; 2% community based organizations; remainder = other)
• 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%)