The Common App folks are set to release Version 4.0 for the 2013-2014 application year. They have promised to make things more user friendly, and they have changed the essay prompts. Most important, from my point of view, is the increase in essay length–you have up to 650 words; you need to write at least 250. This is up from the 500 word limit of recent years, which is a great thing.
They have also dropped the prompts that I grouped together as the “intellectual development ” prompts–such as the prompt that asked you to talk about an intellectual experience or influence. On the other hand, there are still ways to use the new prompts to discuss books and intellectual experiences. If you are bookish or a fanatic when it comes to a particular author or genre of fiction or film, or have found an intellectual home somewhere in the world of books, you already have a large cache of material to draw on and there are ways to use these as topics for the new prompts.
Writing about an enthusiasm is particularly helpful in shaping your personal essay so that it looks out the window more than it looks into the mirror. An essay about an intellectual or other passion is a good way to write about something outside of yourself as a way to write about yourself. Coming up with content may be much easier than for some other topics, and you get the bonus of not seeming self-absorbed (a real problem in a first-person essay about yourself).
I will offer more strategy on that soon and begin my discussion of potential topics for some of the new Common App prompts in upcoming posts.
I’ll close for now by giving you the new prompts:
The Common Application Essay for 2013-2014 Instructions.
The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. (The application won’t accept a response shorter than 250 words.)
- 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, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.