Common App Week: Prompt 3 Breakdown and Brainstorming Tips

Hello! And welcome to another edition of Common App Week! Today we will tackle on of the most difficult prompts of the common app, the famous “belief” prompt. I am not going to leave you in suspicion anymore, here’s the prompt: “Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?”

This remains one of the most challenging prompts of the Common App’s selection, even though it has become slightly friendlier with the addition of the option to discuss a time you questioned an idea instead of challenging it. This prompt requires you to speak passionately about your beliefs and ideologies, which are often onerous subjects that can be difficult to mold into compact stories. It can be one of the hardest questions to steer in a positive, productive direction without traveling into preachy, overly didactic territory. This is also a more precarious prompt than most in that you need to carefully assess the risks of espousing beliefs that might be polarizing for the readers of their applications.

That said, a response to this prompt can be incisive and as deeply personal as it would be for you. Applicants who can articulate their thoughts and feelings while showcasing malleability and willingness to thoughtfully consider the ideas of others will likely stand out as valuable additions to any campus. If this prompt jumps out at you because you have a very specific story to tell or opinion to voice, run with it!

Keep these things in mind as you brainstorm:

  1.  Tackle this prompt only if you really did speak or act out against a popular belief or idea, thereby causing you to take a stand and go against the grain. “Everyone else cheated, but I decided to play it straight” is just following the rules, not challenging a belief or idea.
  2. Stories have more heft to them when the challenge lasted more than one moment. Saying “Hi” once to the awkward outcast at school is a nice thing to do. Eating lunch with him every day is challenging a belief or idea. Arguing with your friends about a woman’s right to choose is likely easier than arguing the same point in an AP Government class filled with conservative students. Telling your counselor that your school should offer AP German doesn’t have as much oomph as convincing a teacher to do an independent study after school for 12 interested students.

Your essay does not have to be focused around a fundamentally serious or groundbreaking issue, what matters most when responding to this prompt is that you have strong convictions about the belief or idea you are trying to convey, and that you examine the personal effects of this ethos on your life and world. For this reason, this prompt can be a great vehicle for showcasing your consideration, persuasive skills, and passions to admissions. 

As always, comment if you have questions or come over and meet us!