The new Common Application essay prompts

The Common Application has released the essay prompts for the 2017-2018 year. You can find the official announcement on their official site here.

Two of them are exactly the same as last year--the one about your "background, identity, interest, or talent," and the one about "the problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve"--and the other three from the previous year got some tweaks and revisions but are basically the same.

What's really interesting, though, are two new and additional prompts, bringing the number of prompts up to seven.

Prompt #6 reads: "Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?" 

I really like this prompt. It shifts the Common App a little farther from the personal narrative and self-identity focus that so many students associate with entrance essays. (Question #1 is still an option if you've got a real strong statement about your identity or background.) But this new question signals to applicants that being passionate about an intellectual pursuit or topic is fine--you can talk about something other than yourself. However, they word it in a way that reminds you to make your essay slightly more personal and reflective than a more formal academic essay. This prompt gives students a clear path toward showing off their academic interests and displaying strong writing. 

Prompt #7 reads: "Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design."

"Topic of your choice" was one of the prompts for a while, then was taken away after 2012, and is back again with additional clarification. 

Prompt #7 really proves the point that the prompt doesn't matter. Schools don't particularly care what you write about--you can now literally turn in anything and they'll consider it. This is a big deal. Getting too caught up in the prompts is one of the major mistakes I've seen students make. Some students spend way too much time and effort trying to analyze which is the "best" prompt to give them some sort of advantage. Others make the opposite mistake of simply answering the question as quickly as possible, without giving much effort to thinking about what they want to share. What the "answer anything you want" prompt shows is that the question really isn't important. What's important is that you write well, and that you allow the admissions committees to see who you are as a person. 

For a longer, more thorough discussion on how to write a great essay, look here.

There is one major pitfall I can see with prompt #7, though. I can see plenty of students choosing to submit an essay they've already written for a high school class just as a way to save time. Why write a new essay if you've already got one you made an A on? That argument makes sense and does add to your efficiency, provided that the essay actually meets your goals of showing off your writing skills and illuminating something about yourself. If it doesn't do those two things, though, then re-using a class essay would be a big mistake, no matter how much time it saves you.

My best guess is that prompt #7 is going to be a big time-saver in another way: it allows you to use essays you've written for other college applications rather than re-working them to fit a Common App prompt. That's a great thing for current sophomores and juniors (sorry seniors)! It gives you more room to work on one perfect application essay instead of two or three good ones. 

If you have any thoughts or questions on the new Common App prompts, leave a comment. And, as always, please share this with someone who would like to read it.