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.