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Common Application Essays: Insights and Sample Response

The Common Application, often referred to as the Common App, is an online college application platform used by over 900 colleges and universities worldwide. As part of the application process, students are required to write an essay that provides a personal statement or insight into their character, experiences, and goals. Over the years, the Common App has asked several essay prompts, and some themes tend to emerge as popular choices among applicants. The average length of a common app essay is between 250 to 650 words. In this blog, we will explore past essay prompts and highlight common themes while providing a sample response.

Past Essay Prompts:

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

  4. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma—anything of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Themes Picked Frequently by Students:

While the topics above provide a wide range of possibilities, certain themes tend to recur in many students' essays. Here are a few examples:

  1. Overcoming Challenges and Personal Growth: Many applicants choose to reflect on overcoming personal or academic obstacles and how those experiences shaped their growth, resilience, and determination.

  2. Identity and Diversity: Some students focus on their unique background, cultural identity, struggles with prejudice, or experiences related to diversity and inclusivity.

  3. Passions and Talents: Numerous applicants showcase their passions, hobbies, talents, or unique skills, elucidating the impact these activities have had on their personal development and worldview.

  4. Interactions and Relationships: Others explore significant relationships, whether with friends, family, or mentors, and the impact these connections have had on their lives.

  5. Social or Community Issues: Students often delve into their engagement with social or community issues, sharing experiences that have inspired them to make a difference or raise awareness about a given topic.

Sample Response:

Essay Prompt:

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Sample Response:

During my sophomore year of high school, I decided to try out for the varsity basketball team. I had been playing basketball since middle school and felt confident in my abilities. However, making the varsity team proved to be a considerable challenge.

After several weeks of tryouts, I received the email that determined the fate of my basketball career. Unfortunately, it was a rejection letter. I was devastated. I had poured countless hours into practicing and dreamed of representing my school on the court. It was a significant setback that left me questioning my capabilities and self-worth.

However, as time passed and the disappointment subsided, I realized that the experience had taught me invaluable lessons. I learned that failure does not define one's worth, but rather how we respond to it. I discovered the power of resilience and determination. Instead of giving up on my dreams of playing basketball, I joined a local community league. Through this experience, I developed a strong work ethic, honed my skills, and built lifelong friendships with teammates who shared my passion.

This setback taught me the importance of perseverance and the ability to find alternative paths to success. It taught me to embrace challenges as opportunities for growth rather than obstacles to my ambitions. Today, I understand that mistakes and failures are merely stepping stones on the journey to achieving my goals.

In conclusion, facing the setback of not making the varsity basketball team was a difficult experience, but it ultimately taught me invaluable life lessons. I now approach challenges with a newfound determination and resilience, understanding that setbacks are not indicators of failure but opportunities for personal growth and development.

Remember, the essay prompts and themes mentioned above are just a starting point to help you brainstorm and develop your unique story. The key is to be sincere, introspective, and genuine in your writing. Good luck!



The sample essay response has been created by using AI tools. The example has been given to illustrate the above points but it not a perfect response. Reach out to us to learn common errors students make in essay writing. We also help students through all stages of the admissions process.

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