Do Common App Essay Prompts Really Matter?

The 2017-18 Common Application platform went live recently, and in the ensuing weeks you will undoubtedly read a lot about the Common App’s personal essay. You will read about essays that worked and didn’t work. You will read about what each prompt means, which prompts are better than others, and what admissions officers are looking for in these 650-word representations of each applicant. However do the essays really even matter? NO. That’s the short answer. But here’s the reason why. 

The aim of the admissions essay is to tell admissions officers something they don’t know about you and that isn’t represented anywhere else on the application. The essay should aim to reveal something about your true passions, interests, and goals while giving a taste of your personality. Reading your essay should give admissions officers insight into what it would be like to have a conversation with you. What makes you tick. What makes you, you.

While the essay can be an excellent launch point for a revolutionary essay, the challenge most students face is trying to decide which prompt to tackle before they even understand which of their stories and characteristics they want to put on display.

At EdBrand we like to take a very different approach. We work through an inverted funnel method. First think of the a story that displays something you are proud of and then try to fit it into one of the essay prompts. Here are the steps we like to take with our students: 

  1. Let them take a cursory look at the Common Application’s essay prompts to get generally acquainted with them.
  2. Forget about the prompts! Like, no memory about them for a while. Don’t let your creative juices get tainted by the silly questions at all. 
  3. Collect their best stories and ruminate on their defining characteristics. What doesn’t admissions know about you that you want them to know? What moments in your life have shaped you and made you the person you are today? (We do this through a comprehensive one-on-one conversation with our writing mentors!)
  4. Dig those prompts out of cold storage. Read each one with your essay topic in mind. Choose the prompt that most closely fits the story! 

There you have it! You are now writing an amazing common app essay!! Still have questions, come meet us for coffee.