2014-15 Essay Prompts

After a positive response from Common Application member colleges and school counselors, The Common Application will retain the current set of first-year essay prompts for 2014-15, without any edits or additions. The essay length will continue to be capped at 650 words.

In February of 2013, The Common Application Board of Directors unveiled five new essay prompts, the first major revision in several years. The prompts were the culmination of several years of discussion about the role writing plays in a holistic selection process and were designed with the assistance of 15 counselors on the association’s Outreach Advisory Committee, who worked diligently to ensure that all applicants, regardless of background or access to counseling, would have the chance to tell their unique stories.

Reaction so far among college admission officers and counselors suggests that the revisions are having the desired outcome. “I love the new prompts—and not just because they are new,” says Terry Cowdrey, Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Colby College. “I think we are learning more about students.” Karen Felton, Director of Admission at The George Washington University, agrees, saying, “I enjoy the new prompts because they allow students to focus more on what they feel is important for colleges to know about them.”

Carmen Lopez, Executive Director of College Horizons, a non-profit dedicated to college success of Native American and Native Hawaiian students, believes this is especially true for students served by her program. “As a community-based organization that services underrepresented students, College Horizons has found the Common App’s new essay prompts to be highly effective. Students are presenting themselves as multi-dimensional, writing with an authentic voice, and writing meaningfully as both students and Native students.”

In a recent survey, nearly 70% of Common Application member colleges and 90% of school counselors indicated that the prompts are effective in helping students represent themselves to colleges. The Common Application has committed to reviewing the essay prompts on an annual basis to ensure they continue to serve students and member colleges well.

The essay prompts are as follows:

  • Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  • 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 place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, which marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

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