The essay portion of the college application is arguably the most important section, and while some students may be excited for it, many others dread it. However, there’s no need to dread or fear these college application essays, since they’re actually your biggest opportunity to prove why you would be a great and unique addition to the university. When it comes time for college applications, students have little control over other factors that impact admission, such as GPA, SATs/ACTs, and AP test scores (since those grades are what they are and can’t be improved by a college application). Alternatively, with each essay, you begin as a blank slate, and it’s up to you to write a compelling enough story to get the admission officers on your side, regardless of the rest of your application.
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Prompt 1: Share Your Story
This essay prompt is your opportunity to get raw and personal with the admissions officers. Your response to “Share Your Story” should not rehash your academic excellence or extracurricular involvement and accolades, all of which can be seen at a glance on your resume. Instead, this essay should discuss the background and experiences in your life that have molded you to be the person you are today and why that person is a valuable and desirable candidate for this university. This is your chance to discuss your personal growth, any challenges you overcame, any passions that have played a huge part in your life, and how you plan to bring these unique traits to offer a positive impact on the university.
Prompt 2: Learning from Obstacles
When you write about what you’ve learned from an obstacle, you’re really showing the admissions officers how you’ve been able to tackle a challenge and what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown as a result. Colleges are looking to see how you handle difficult situations and if you’re able to turn lemons into lemonades, so to speak. The most important piece of this answer is the transformation you’ve experienced through coming out on the other side of the obstacle, as this proves your personal growth and shows colleges you’re a malleable person who has room for further growth and improvements.
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Prompt 3: Challenging a Belief
When writing about challenging a belief, you have two potential angles you can take. On one hand, you can discuss a time when you stood up for a belief of your own and challenged others with an opposing viewpoint. Alternatively, you can discuss a time when your own viewpoint was challenged and perhaps forced you to reconsider your current perspective. Either way, you should discuss why you held a certain belief, what considerations made you either stand up for or rethink this belief, and how you’ve come to see both sides of the situation before settling on your final viewpoint. This shows maturity, thoughtfulness, and objectivity, all of which colleges would like candidates to possess.
Prompt 4: Solving a Problem
When you write about solving a problem, admissions officers want to see your thought process on paper. The key to ace this essay isn’t so much about the problem you choose, but rather about how you went about solving it and why. You should discuss your process of identifying the problem, brainstorming and evaluating various solutions, and how you came to the optimal solution and conclusion that you chose. This shows colleges how you’re able to think through difficult situations and use common sense and reasoning to ferret out ideal solutions.
Prompt 5: Personal Growth
This essay topic is a bit vague, but that gives you the opportunity to call upon whatever experience or scenario you think was most relevant to your personal growth and describe exactly how you were impacted. You should also discuss any shortcomings that were highlighted in that period and how you addressed them in your response to the situation. While this doesn’t have to be one specific moment in life, and could rather be your growth throughout the past few years of high school, you do want to point to specific examples of how you’ve changed and matured as a person, the catalyst for those changes, and how you continue to do so going forward.
Prompt 6: Your Passions
This topic gives you the opportunity to share your unique interests with the admissions office and to convey exactly how you follow your passions through your actions. The most important thing here is that you’re able to speak to your actions, rather than just the interest. The actions you take in pursuing your passion are the proof of your dedication to the talent, hobby, or interest, and admissions officers want to see just how passionate and dedicated you are. Additionally, if you’ve achieved any outstanding outcomes or personal achievements related to these passions, this is your chance to expand upon those. There isn’t a wrong answer here, but the more unique and heartfelt your answer is, and the more evidence to back it up, the more likely it may strike a chord with the reader.
Prompt 7: A Person You Admire
This topic is a simple one to get right, but one may get wrong by trying too hard to impress with an answer that sounds impressive, but simply isn’t genuine at all. You don’t have to choose some famous historic figure or a renowned scholar in this essay, and if it isn’t true, it likely won’t be believable. The best answers here will be the ones that hit close to home; you want to discuss a person who has made a great impact on your life or worldview. It could be a parent, a mentor, or an idol in your field of interest. It could be a great artist, if your hobby is painting, or a great entrepreneur, if your interest is business and entrepreneurship. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s personal and meaningful to you, and include the specific impact and influence this person has had on your life and on your future.
Prompt 8: What is a Book or Movie You Love?
Similar to the prior topic, you don’t need to go so far as to choose some obscure classic novel, simply to impress the reader. You should be honest in your answer and realize that your choice of book or movie here is much less important than your reason behind it. As long as you paint a clear picture of how this book or movie has impacted you, which characters or scenarios you identified with, and why this is particularly relevant or meaningful to your life or personal growth, you can’t go wrong, regardless of the title you choose.
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Prompt 9: What is an Extracurricular Activity That Has Been Meaningful to You?
When you answer this prompt, the goal is again to describe your personal growth and transformation. You don’t have to choose the most impressive or academic-related extracurricular to ace this essay. Instead, you should choose the one that caused the greatest impact on your journey thus far. Perhaps there was one community service activity that opened your eyes to a national issue you hadn’t known about prior. Or maybe a debate team made you overcome your fear of public speaking and has led you to decide to pursue a career in business or politics. Whatever the extracurricular you choose, be sure to illustrate the full impact it has made on you, and you’ll be golden.
Prompt 10: What Makes You Different
While this “free for all” type of question can feel far too open-ended for some, it’s really the best opportunity to prove, once and for all, why you are a unique candidate that would add something special and valuable to the university. The unique trait could be a passion, a talent, a background or upbringing, or even a challenge you’ve had to overcome, but it should demonstrate your individual strengths and the unique viewpoint and experience you bring to the table. The last thing colleges want is a boring, bland student body of similar students with similar experiences and interests. This is your chance to prove why you’re not that and why they need that “something special” that only you can bring to the table.
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Remember, the college application essays are truly your chance to shine. You should be as thoughtful, genuine, and detailed as you can in these essays and let the “real you” come through. Colleges aren’t looking for a “perfect” candidate; they know there isn’t such a thing. They’re looking for an honest, humble, confident, self-aware, intellectually curious, motivated, unique individual to add to their campus, and that’s exactly what you want to convey through your essay answers.