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When is it smarter to write your Common Application essay now or later

The Common Application has released their prompts for 2015-2016. Applicants will be required to choose one of these five prompts:

  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.

As tempting as it may be, I suggest that students wait until late summer to finalize their Common Application draft. It may be a good idea to review the prompts and even jot down a few handwritten notes (of course) in the spring of junior year. The notes may be helpful when you begin working in earnest on your essay in the fall.

Here’s why students should wait:

  1. Your thoughts and ideas will mature/evolve as you approach senior year of high school
    I can’t explain how this works but trust me on this. There’s something about knowing that this will be the last year of high school that makes you a bit more anxious than otherwise. I know for me personally (although I’m far removed from high school aged) when I know that “the end” is imminent, I get both nervous and excited for what’s next.
  2. Your summer experience may change your outlook (period).
    Each year, my rising seniors participate in some rather amazing experiences. We spend much of the winter term finding and applying to great programs. If you write your essay late summer, it will give you time to reflect and incorporate the meaningful aspects of your summer experience.
  3. Write better supplemental essays
    This reason isn’t so obvious but each year, many colleges release their supplemental essay questions in September, after the Common Application. Several of my students, in the past years, have changed their Common Application essay once they reviewed the supplemental essays for their colleges. I stress to students that the college application is a full picture of the best you. It shouldn’t be one-sided. Sometimes, students use their CA essay as a supplement or vice versa. Either way, they maintain the flexibility to respond to all of their essay prompts in the best way to stand out among the thousands of other applicants.

Look for our upcoming posts this fall where we will provide more tips for rising seniors to write their best essays to get admitted to the college that they can call “home”.


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This blog is valued by busy parents of college-bound teens. The topics covered in these posts are mined from years of listening to parents talk about their dreams for their children’s education.

This blog is written from the heart… as it’s my passion and life calling!

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