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4 College Essay Tips to Help You with Your Common App

Here are the 2016-2017 college essay prompts and 4 things to remember when choosing which essay to answer.

May is normally the time when the Common Application releases the new prompts for the coming year’s college application season. Many clients at Stratus work with us to plan and write their essays over the summer after their junior year. Writing essays before your senior year even begins allows you to save the fall for the demands of their other essays, applications, extra-curricular activities, and additional coursework.

However, this year there is a big change! Great news for students is that this year, there are no new prompts. TThe Common App has decided to maintain the prompts they had in the 2015-2016 application cycle. That means the following five questions will help determine your college admissions journey in a major way.

2016-2017 College Essay 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.

Now, you might be thinking “How do I know which Common Application Prompt is right for me?”

How to Choose Your Common Application Essay Prompt?

This is essentially the first major step of your college admissions process. You should take your time to evaluate each essay question and choose carefully. Below are some steps that we at Stratus use with our clients to help aide them in always gaining admission to at least one of their top choice schools and usually to many others—often with scholarship.

4 Things to Remember About Choosing Your Common App Essay Prompt.

Step 1. Assess Yourself

You need to do a deep dive into your experiences in order to determine your strengths and weaknesses. At Stratus, this involved our introspection exercises and essay brainstorming. We help our clients hone in on items they often don’t even realize should be highlighted. Conversely, we also assist them with diagnosing weaknesses and finding ways to re-position them.

Step 2. Be Genuine

According to the common application governing body, these prompts were created to elicit information that will strengthen the other components of the application. “We want to make sure that every applicant can find a home within the essay prompts, and that they can use the prompts as a starting point to write an essay that is authentic and distinguishing,” said Scott Anderson, former school counselor and current Senior Director for Programs and Partnerships for The Common Application.

So be yourself! Admissions readers have an excellent barometer for authenticity. Don’t write what you think they want to read. You need to choose the prompt that will allow you to write on elements of yourself and your life about which you are passionate.

Step 3. Differentiate Yourself

As you work from brainstorming on each prompt, evaluate which question produces the most compelling anecdotes from your life. You will want to have a trusted reviewer to read over as you brainstorm and begin to outline and form the foundation of your essay. That is why at Stratus we have a finely delineated process for evaluating our clients and developing the most compelling narrative thread—one which best positions them for admission.

Working with a reviewer is key. You need to balance between displaying fit in a college community and distinguishing yourself from your peers. Often students wait until they have written a draft to seek outside perspectives and that is too far on—mistakes can happen early.

Choosing the prompt is critical for success. According to the Common App, among the more than 800,000 unique applicants who have submitted a Common App, 47 percent chose to write about their background, identity, interest, or talent. This makes it the most frequently selected prompt; 22 percent chose to write about an accomplishment, 17 percent about a lesson or failure, 10 percent about a problem solved, and four percent about an idea challenged.

Step 4. Answer the Question

When you choose the prompt for you be certain you can actually answer the question. You would not believe how many stellar essays I have read that don’t actually do this fundamental thing. Read through each prompt carefully and take time to consider how you would respond to each one. This will also aid in the decision-making process. Remember, if you make the right prompt choice then you are one step closer to gaining admission to the college of your dreams!


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