Common Application Essay Prompt Examples & Templates

Common Application Essay Prompt Examples & Templates (2022)

If you are looking for guidance on the Common Application, including Common App essay prompts and essay examples and templates as well as answers to the most common questions about the Common App, then you’ve come to the right place. 

This Application Prep guide is fully updated with the 2022-2023 Common App application and essay prompts.

Before you dive in, it’s important to understand that all of the colleges that use the Common App each receive thousands of applications every year. To help you stand out from the crowd, you need to demonstrate a clear sense of self, strong life experience, and exemplary communication skills.

Our ‘full student’ coaching process does exactly that. If you’re not working with a coach, be sure to read the Self-Awareness, Goal-Setting, and Narrative Communication Skills Guides.

The Narrative Communication Approach™ is a particularly useful storytelling framework that helps you tell a clear and concise story, while creating an emotional connection with the reader. All Common App essay prompt examples use this approach.

In this guide, we’ll give you Common App essay prompt templates and examples that use this approach to help make your essay deeply personal and unique — which is exactly what the admissions counselors at all the colleges and universities you’re applying to look for.

If you’re serious about creating a standout Common App and getting into all the colleges on your list and reaching your fullest post-secondary potential, connect with a coach. It’s never too early to receive coaching.

Table of Contents

  1. Common Application Overview: Application Requirements; Deadlines; Fees; Essays; Recommendations; and More.
  2. 2022-2023 Common App: Personal essay prompts; Question breakdowns and tips; Question templates and examples; and More.
  3. Common App FAQs: What is the Common App used for?; Why do I need to write a Common App?; What Common App Essay should I choose?; Do I need a recommendation?; and More. 

Common App Overview: What You Need To Know 

What is the Common App?

Common App is a free application tool that’s designed to simplify the application process for first year and transfer students as they apply and get into college. Common App has more than 900 member colleges and universities around the world. 

With the Common App, you only need to complete one application to apply to up to 20 colleges and/or universities at once.

Deadlines

The 2022-2023 Common App opens on August 1, 2022. While there is no specific deadline for the Common App, you MUST submit it before the deadline of the college/university you’re applying to (and whether you are applying for early admission or regular admission). 

You can find each school’s app deadlines by going to the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and clicking the ‘Application Requirements’ button to see the date requirements for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list.

COACH’S TIP: Common App recently announced that the 2022/2023 application is the same as the 2021/2022 application, including the Personal Essay prompts. We recommend that you get started as soon as possible, so you have plenty of time to make your app and essay perfect. If you’re eager to get started on the app before it opens on August 1, you can start it early (the 2022-2023 essay prompts are the same as the 2021-2022 prompts), and then simply transfer everything over to the new app when it opens.  

While the Common App is designed to help make the admissions process easier, it isn’t required when applying to college/university. There are other platforms available (such as the Coalition Application or the Universal Application) and most schools allow students to apply directly through their websites or unique application system. 

Common App Cost

The Common App is free. However, some schools have their own application fee, so be sure to do your research before applying. Almost half of Common App member schools don’t charge an app fee, and others offer a fee waiver for those who qualify. Check out the ‘Application Requirements’ button on your Dashboard to see the fees for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list.

Recommenders

The Common App also has its own recommenders platform for teachers, counselors, and other people you’ve asked to write a letter of recommendation. Applicants simply add the person and they get an invitation to complete the form. With Common App, you can ask your teacher, counselor, etc. to write one letter of recommendation, and send it to all the schools you’re applying to. Learn more in this Common App Recommender guide.

REMEMBER: Whether or not you need a recommendation letter depends on the individual school you’re applying to. The type of recommendation letter (e.g. counselor recommendation, teacher recommendation, other type of recommendation, etc.) also varies from school to school. Some schools require recommenders, others don’t, and for others it’s optional (you can check individual schools’ requirements on the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and click the ‘Application Requirements’ button). 

We know that the Common App can seem overwhelming at first, so we’ve put together a list of FAQs about the Common App below

App Components

When you use the Common App, you need to complete 2 main parts:

  1. Common App Common Questions & Personal Essays: Basic background information such as family, education, testing, activities, and courses/grades (if applicable). There are also personal essays, which can be found in the Writing section of the Common App. You will see 7 essay prompts, and you must choose ONE to write an essay of maximum 650 words based on that. Here’s a list of the 2021-2022 personal essay prompts (keep reading for a full breakdown and essay examples for all the prompts). 
  2. College-Specific Questions and/or Writing Supplements: Some colleges will have their own specific questions, usually a short answer or essay. Click here for each college’s writing requirements. Similarly, some colleges will have a writing supplement that is not completed in the Common App profile. ALWAYS research each college to determine if they have an additional writing requirement. 

Here are the 7 sections that make up the Common App Common Questions & Personal Essays section of your application (part #1 above): 

  • Profile: Personal information like your name, date of birth, address, contact details, demographics, language, nationality, etc. 
  • Family: Parent information, sibling information, etc.
  • Education: Current high school, past schools, colleges/universities, grades, current/recent courses, future plans, etc.
  • Testing: Standardized test scores, international applicant testing, etc. For more information on this section, check out this page.
  • Activities: Discussing relevant (up to 10) extracurriculars, like arts, clubs, community engagement, hobbies, work/volunteering etc. (keep reading for a template and example for the Common App Activities List).
  • Writing: Includes 2 sections: 
    • (a) Personal Essay, answering ONE of the 7 prompts (keep reading for breakdowns, templates, and examples for each); 
    • (b) Additional Information, where you discuss any impacts of community disruptions and how it has impacted you.
  • Courses and Grades: List courses and the grades you received for each. Note that not all colleges require this list (you can check if it is required in the My Colleges tab of the app).

REMEMBER: As mentioned above, each college/university has their own requirements in addition to the Common App (usually an extra set of questions or an additional application or a writing supplemental). Make sure you do your research and complete all components of the application for each school you’re applying to. Keep track of all the requirements for each college/university you’re applying to here.

We know that this process can seem really overwhelming and stressful. Just remember — you don’t have to go through this alone! Our Youth Coaches™ have helped hundreds of students complete and submit the Common App and get into their top choice schools. Connect with a coach now for support.

Ace your Common App
& Personal Essay.

get a youth coach™

Joel

Common App Expert
and Youth Coach™

2022-2023 Common Application Essay Prompts & Examples

In this section, we’ll go through all the Common App Essays prompts and provide breakdowns, templates, and examples for each question. 

REMEMBER: You only need to write ONE ESSAY that’s 650 words (and no less than 250 words). The essay prompts for the 2022-2023 Common App can be found here.

Common App Essay Prompts – Overview 

Here are the instructions for all of the prompts:

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.) 

The Common App Personal Essays allow app reviewers to get to know you on a deeper, more personal level beyond your courses, grades and test scores.

Your essay is are your one chance to make a personal connection with the reviewers and showcase your interests, skills, experiences, and plans for the future. 

Put simply, the Personal Essay allows you to show what makes you, you. It’s arguably the most important part of your application. 

A unique and memorable essay can help your application stand out. It should also be specific enough that it paints an accurate picture of who you are, while also appealing to all the schools you’re applying to (even if you’re applying for different programs or specializations). 

A great way to show exactly who you are while connecting with a bunch of different audiences is through storytelling. This will help you write a memorable essay about all sorts of topics, while creating an emotional connection through character development, deep personal insights, and learning outcomes

We recommend using our Narrative Communication Approach. This effective structure uses storytelling to connect emotionally with the reader and effectively communicate your interests, skills, goals, and experiences. Learn more about it our Narrative Communication™ blog here.  

We know that this essay can seem really overwhelming at first. But remember — you aren’t alone! Youthfully Coaches have helped hundreds of students ace their Common App and achieve more than they ever thought possible. Connect with a coach now for support with your application and Personal Essay.

Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 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. 

Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 1 

This question asks you to talk about that one thing that makes you unique

The question is intentionally left open-ended so you can choose any aspect of your life that makes you completely different from anyone else. It can be anything from a hobby, academic interest, personal passion, or favorite pastime, to a formative experience or event in your life or an extracurricular activity you’ve been doing for years. 

When choosing what to discuss, take time to think about something that is so meaningful that it’s inseparable from who you are as a person. Maybe you have been playing tennis since you were 5 years old and you’re now a pro, or you immigrated to the US and were so inspired by your parents’ successful small business that you started your own. Or maybe you went on a trip when you were younger and this ignited your love of studying other cultures and languages. Focus on that defining thing that makes you who you are.

Once you’ve decided what you want to discuss, communicate how this background, identity, interest, or talent has fundamentally influenced you and changed you as a person. Highlight your personality using this topic, and focus on showcasing what’s important to you, as well as your interests, skills, and goals wherever possible.

Use storytelling to discuss the evolution of this meaningful thing, like how it started, how it has changed over time, what it has meant in your life etc., while giving enough detail that the reader can go on the journey with you and connect with you emotionally (check out the template below and learn how to create the perfect story using this 5-step process). 

The key is to make the app reviewer feel what you feel so they can understand the significance of the background, identity, interest, or talent you’re talking about. The goal is to make them care about it just as much as you do

No matter what meaningful aspect of your life you choose, the point is that you show the admissions committee that you have self-awareness and can identify your interest, skills, and strengths. They want to see that you have gone on a journey of personal growth that has led you to where you are today (and that it will help you as you continue on to post-secondary studies). If you’ve completed our Student Identity Blueprint, you already know how your experiences, interests, talents, background and identity makes you unique, so this will help you out a lot for this essay prompt. If you haven’t completed your Blueprint, connect with a coach to get started.

Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 1 

Get started on your template here (Click File > Make a Copy and save it to your computer).

As mentioned above, all the templates and examples in this App Prep Guide follow our Narrative Communication Approach™. This structure uses storytelling to create an emotional connection with the reader, while showcasing character development, deep learning outcomes, and personal insight. The result? Truly unique, authentic, and memorable essays. Check out our Narrative Communication Approach Guide to learn more.

Your essay should have these 5 components to help make it unique and memorable:

  • Hook (~25 words):
    • State the background, identity, interest, or talent that is an inseparable part of who you are.  
  • Context (75-100 words):
    • State the background, identity, interest, or talent that is an inseparable part of who you are. Provide some details about where it began and what you felt when it did. Was there a specific event or sudden realization that occurred? An evolution over time? 
  • Catalyst (75-100 words):
    • Discuss how you developed your background, identity, interest, or talent over time, as well as how it became an inseparable part of who you are. Talk about what you would be if this one thing didn’t exist and talk about how it set you on the path to self-discovery. 
  • Outcome (200-225 words):
    • Discuss how it has impacted your life, drawing on experiences wherever possible. Provide examples of how you’ve put your background, identity, interest, or talent into practice in your daily life and how it has evolved or changed over time. 
  • Reflection (175-200 words):
    • Discuss what you’ve learned about yourself because of this background, identity, interest, or talent. Try to make your learning outcomes as unique as possible. Then, briefly state how this background, identity, interest, or talent will impact your goals and aspirations going forward.

If you need support finding a topic and writing an essay for this 2022-2023 Common App prompt, connect with a coach for support.

Common App Essay Example: Prompt 1 

Here’s a Common App essay prompt example for this question. 

REMEMBER: This is an EXAMPLE ONLY and is NOT meant for you to copy.

common application essay examples prompts
common application essay examples prompts

Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 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? 

Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 2 

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle themselves during difficult situations and when something doesn’t go as planned. 

The obstacle you talk about in this essay can be a specific event from your personal or academic life, or it can be more broad, like a challenge you continually face, like a fear of public speaking, or a sudden realization, like figuring out you didn’t want to follow the plans your parents had for your future. 

The app reviewers don’t care so much about the exact obstacle that happened. What’s really important is how you react, how you face adversity, and how you use your problem solving skills to find a solution. They want to know what this obstacle or challenge taught you, how you used this as an opportunity for personal growth and learning, and how this ultimately made you a better person and student. 

When writing your story, make sure you describe your emotions as much as you can. You want the app reviewers to go on this journey with you and understand how you felt when this obstacle or challenge happened, and then how you felt when you overcame it and used it as an opportunity for growth. Write your story in a way that the reader walks in your shoes. 

Finally, reflect on why this obstacle was so influential in your life and how these lessons have made you better. Did it make you discover something about yourself that you didn’t know? Did it ignite an interest that set you on a new path? Did you develop key real-world skills when trying to solve it? Then, wrap up by discussing how you will use the lessons from this challenge as you set and achieve your goals in the future.

If you aren’t sure which challenge, setback, or failure to talk about in your essay, connect with a coach anytime for support.

Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 2

Get started on your template here (Click File > Make a Copy and save it to your computer).

Your essay should have these 5 components to help make your story unique and memorable:

  • Hook (~25 words) – Optional:
    • Capture the reader’s attention and give a preview of what’s to come.
  • Context (125-150 words):
    • Provide some background about yourself and discuss who you were and what you believed in before this obstacle occurred. State what the obstacle (challenge, setback, or failure) was. Paint the picture of the situation you were in, focusing on the emotions you felt when this obstacle occurred as well as your initial reaction. 
  • Catalyst (75-100 words): 
    • Talk about the turning point, addressing how you faced the obstacle and what you did to resolve it. Discuss any trial and error moments that occured. Go through your journey to solve this problem.
  • Outcome (150-175 words): 
    • Outline how this obstacle turned out in the end (either positive or negative). If possible, talk about quantifiable outcomes, such as hours worked/volunteered, money raised, people impacted, etc.
  • Reflection (175-200 words): 
    • Discuss what you learned because of this obstacle. Why was this lesson important? How did it change you as a person? Finally, briefly talk about how you will use this lesson going forward and how it has already (and will contribute) to your success (personally, professionally, and academically). 
Common App Essay Example: Prompt 2

Here’s a Common App essay prompt example for this question. 

REMEMBER: This is an EXAMPLE ONLY and is NOT meant for you to copy.

common application essay examples prompts
common application essay examples prompts

Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 3

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

Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 3 

This essay prompt is definitely one of the harder ones out of the 7.

The app reviewers want to see that you can think critically and use logic and the evidence you have to form opinions for yourself (rather than being influenced and coerced by others). 

They also want to see that you’re willing to adapt and change your views as you learn more about yourself and experience the world. 

The belief or idea that you discuss doesn’t have to be extremely complex, like the meaning of life. It can be something as simple as you believing that it’s too risky to try something outside of your comfort zone or that you have to follow in the same footsteps as your parents. The important thing is that this belief or idea is something that you believed was true for a long time, until something happened that changed your outlook and allowed you to evolve as a person. If you’re having trouble coming up with a belief or idea to discuss, have a look at the Values section of your Student Identity Blueprint (if you haven’t filled out your Blueprint yet, click here to get started).

COACH’S TIP: While topics like religion, politics, race, and other social issues are popular topics of discussion, avoid talking about these topics in your essay. Everyone has strong beliefs about these topics, and the last thing you want to do is offend anyone or start an argument. Choose topics that are more unique to your life, experiences, skills, and interests, and NOT broad, touchy subjects

Also, while you want to effectively communicate your belief/idea before and after you challenged or questioned it, you don’t want to come across as too preachy or difficult. Everyone has their own beliefs, and if you seem completely unaccepting of others’ views, then this will actually hurt your chances of getting into the schools you’re applying to. 

Instead, focus on what the experience taught you and how you evolved as a person. Create a story that emphasizes the emotions you felt when this event happened, and how you invited the opportunity for growth and change

The most important aspect of this essay is talking about what you learned because you were willing to go beyond what you believe or what you were taught, and how accepting new perspectives actually made you a stronger person both now and in the future.

Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 3

Get started on your template here (Click File > Make a Copy and save it to your computer).

Your essay should have these 5 components to help make your story unique and memorable:

  • Hook (~25 words) – Optional:
    • Capture the reader’s attention and give a preview of what’s to come.
  • Context (75-100 words):
    • State the belief or idea you challenged or questioned. Where did this belief come from? Why did you believe it to be true? Be as specific as possible, painting the ‘before’ picture (i.e. before the event that made you question it occurred). 
  • Catalyst (125-150 words):
    • Discuss what made you question or challenge this belief. This can be a specific event, discussion you had with someone, a gradual change over time, etc. Explain why this caused so much doubt to happen, and what your initial reaction to this doubt was (explaining the emotion you felt wherever possible).  
  • Outcome (150-175 words): 
    • Talk about your changing views on this belief or idea after the event you discussed in the Catalyst section (this is the ‘after’ picture you discussed in the Context section). If your old belief/idea was replaced with a new belief/idea, briefly explain what the new one is here. 
  • Reflection (175-200 words): 
    • Talk about what you learned by challenging this belief/opinion and how it changed your outlook going forward. Provide some learning outcomes about how it impacted you personally, academically, and/or professionally.

If you need support finding a topic and writing an essay for this 2022-2023 Common App prompt, connect with a coach for support.

Common App Essay Example: Prompt 3

Here’s a Common App essay prompt example for this question. 

REMEMBER: This is an EXAMPLE ONLY and is NOT meant for you to copy.

common application essay examples prompts
common application essay examples prompts

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Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 4

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 4 

This question is a bit newer than the others, first appearing in the 2021-2022 Common App. 

The theme of this prompt is gratitude — for being inspired, being put outside your comfort zone, learning something new, and getting excited about your future. 

The focus of this essay isn’t gushing about how amazing the person who did something for you is, and how nice they are for doing it. Just explain who the person is and what the act of kindness was.

Instead, the app reviews want a personal story that communicates how this act of kindness initiated personal growth and self-discovery, as well as how and why it was so unexpected. Spend time thinking outside of the box and make the act as unique as possible. Go beyond saying someone was your mentor or helped you with a school project, and use an act of kindness that had a long-lasting impact

A key phrase in this prompt that students often overlook is “in a surprising way”. While the experience doesn’t have to be huge, what’s important is the impact it had on you (as well as the emotions you felt as it was happening).  

This can be something you learned that made you change your outlook on life, ignited your passion for something, or set you on the path you’re on now. This act of kindness should have a long lasting effect on your life and fundamentally change you in some way. 

COACH’S TIP: Your topic also doesn’t have to be positive — someone could have done something that seemed negative at the time, but actually turned out for the better in the end (keep reading to see the example). This would be a great way to bring in the ‘surprise’ element of this question.

Finally, when talking about how this act of kindness affected you, try to draw out personal details about yourself as much as possible. 

Here’s an example: A mentor got you a summer internship at your local hospital and this surprised you because you realized that medicine wasn’t for you, even though it’s what your parents expected when they immigrated from China. Then, you decided to pursue your passion for business and start your own non-profit organization so that you could support cancer research because you lost your grandfather to this disease. You were so grateful that this happened because you got to go outside of your comfort zone and combine your love of business and philanthropy. At the same time, you can see all the personal details here — it tells who the you are (from China, in a family of doctors) and your interests (philanthropy), as well as some explanation of your experiences (internships, starting a non-profit) and your skills (leadership, organization, time management). 

If you need support finding a topic and writing an essay for this 2022-2023 Common App prompt, connect with a coach for support.

Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 4 

Get started on your template here (Click File > Make a Copy and save it to your computer).

Your essay should have these 5 components to help make your story unique and memorable:

  • Hook (~25 words) – Optional:
    • Capture the reader’s attention and give a preview of what’s to come.
  • Context (125-150 words):
    • Give some background about you, like who were before this act of kindness occurred. Imagine this as the ‘before’ scenario. 
  • Catalyst (100-125 words):
    • Briefly discuss the thing that someone did for you (and who did the action), answering the 5Ws (who, what, when, where, why). 
  • Outcome (150-175 words):
    • Describe what happened as a result of this act of kindness. Tap into your emotions as much as possible (maybe you were surprised, hesitant, etc. when it happened). 
  • Reflection (150-175 words)
    • Answer where you’d be if this event hadn’t occurred, and then discuss why you’re so grateful that it did. Talk about the impact of this event, emphasizing why it was so significant in your life, like that you learned about yourself or how it inspired you to explore a new interest. Finally, explain how you will use these lessons going forward (especially in your post-secondary studies).  
Common App Essay Example: Prompt 4

Here’s a Common App essay prompt example for this question. 

REMEMBER: This is an EXAMPLE ONLY and is NOT meant for you to copy.

common application essay examples prompts
common application essay examples prompts

Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 5

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

Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 5 

In the other sections of your Common App, you’ve already given the app reviewers a pretty clear picture of what you’ve done, like your grades, courses, extracurriculars, other experiences, etc. 

This question is your chance to talk about how this accomplishment, event, or realization has influenced you and made you the person you are today. Remember that these formative events aren’t always obvious — you might not have even realized it was happening! 

When thinking about what accomplishment, event, or realization you want to talk about, think about who you are now, asking questions like:

  • What’s important to me and why?
  • What do I genuinely enjoy doing?
  • What am I good at? What could I improve on? 
  • Who is most important in my life? 
  • What am I proud of? 
  • Have I changed over the last few years? If so, how?

Once you’ve answered these questions, think about that specific thing which initiated it and where it all began. This is the accomplishment, event, or realization that you should focus on in your essay.

COACH’S TIP: According to Common App, this is the second most popular essay prompt that 23.7% of students answered for the 2021-2022 Common App. To make sure your essay stands out from the crowd, choose a topic that is unique and isn’t overdone, like the death of a family member, a trip somewhere, or an injury. Think outside the box and come up with an accomplishment, event, or realization that’s unexpected. If you are discussing something a bit more common, try to make your learning outcomes as unique as possible.

Once you’ve narrowed down your topic, focus the majority of the essay on 2-3 learning outcomes that allowed you to grow personally, academically, and professionally. 

These learning outcomes should be centered around a common theme, while focusing inward on you as a person along with the growth of your interests, skills, goals, and more. Next, turn the focus outward and talk about how this growth has changed how you interact with others and view the world around you. Emphasize how this has changed how you view and interact with the world and how it has impacted your life for the better.

Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 5

Get started on your template here (Click File > Make a Copy and save it to your computer).

Your essay should have these 5 components:

  • Hook (~25 words) – Optional:
    • Capture the reader’s attention and give a preview of what’s to come.
  • Context (75-100 words):
    • Provide some background info about you, like who were before this accomplishment, event, or realization occurred, and exactly where you were in life. Imagine this as the ‘before’ scenario.
  • Catalyst (125-150 words): 
    • Introduce the accomplishment, event, or realization that occurred and give some details about what happened. Explain what it was about this experience that made it such a good opportunity for growth and learning.
  • Outcome (150-175 words):
    • Discuss what kind of growth and/or change this accomplishment, event, or realization initiated, and who you became during and after it happened (this is the ‘after’ picture you introduced in the Context section). Emphasize your emotions as much as possible as you discuss your growth and change (e.g. were you afraid? Hesitant? Excited? Inspired?) 
  • Reflection (175-200 words):
    • Provide some details about what you learned about yourself and others because of this accomplishment, event, or realization. Focus on 1-2 deep learning outcomes that go beyond the surface level, and emphasize how you will apply what you learned both now and in the future. 

If you need support finding a topic and writing an essay for this 2022-2023 Common App prompt, connect with a coach for support.

Common App Essay Example: Prompt 5

Here’s a Common App essay prompt example for this question. 

REMEMBER: This is an EXAMPLE ONLY and is NOT meant for you to copy.

common application essay examples prompts
common application essay examples prompts

Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 6

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

Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 6 

This essay prompt asks you to take any topic (simple or complex) and explain why it fascinates you. 

The possibilities for the subject of the essay are endless — it can be anything from a hobby you’re obsessed with, like surfing to fixing up old cars, to a theory you learned in science class, like evolution, or a question you always think about, like whether there’s life on other planets.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with this question. You can take a seemingly simple topic and use your creativity to make it unique and interesting

The point of this question is to show the reviewers who you are, what your thought processes are, what you’re interested in, what you enjoy doing, and more. The important thing isn’t so much as what you are so engaged with, but why it’s so engaging.

To communicate why this topic, concept, or idea is so engaging to you, you should use storytelling to paint a clear picture of where this interest started, how it evolved, and how it has impacted your life so much. Be as descriptive as possible when you explain the topic, concept, or idea. Imagine that you’re trying to explain this topic to a friend or family member and you want to get them as excited about it as you are by using detail and emotion

The final part of this essay is showing how you have evolved your exploration of this topic, concept, or idea over time. You want to show that you are open to continual learning as well as new perspectives and ideas. Emphasize how your interest in this topic has changed over time and how that has fuelled your interest in it even more.

Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 6 

Get started on your template here (Click File > Make a Copy and save it to your computer).

Your essay should have these 5 components:

  • Hook (~25 words) – Optional:
    • Capture the reader’s attention and give a preview of what’s to come.
  • Context (125-150 words):
    • Introduce your topic, idea, or concept, giving some helpful background information so the reviewers understand exactly what you’re talking about (What is it?; When did it start?; What’s so special about it?, Etc.). Discuss when you first became interested in this topic, idea, or concept, and what was so special about it that captivated all your time and energy. 
  • Catalyst (100-125 words):
    • Discuss a turning point when the topic, concept, or idea began to change your life, and how this set you on a journey of self-discovery. 
  • Outcome (150-175 words):
    • Explain how your interest in this topic, idea, or concept has grown over time and how it influences you in your daily life. Talk about how you continue to explore this topic in your life and your interactions with others. 
  • Reflection (150-175 words):
    • Discuss what your exploration of this topic, concept, or idea has taught you and how it has changed you as a person. Think about who you’d be if you hadn’t become engaged in it, and how it has impacted your personal and academic life. Wrap up the essay but stating how you will continue to explore and engage with this topic, concept, or idea in the future.

If you need support finding a topic and writing an essay for this 2022-2023 Common App prompt, connect with a coach for support.

Common App Essay Example: Prompt 6

Here’s a Common App essay prompt example for this question. 

REMEMBER: This is an EXAMPLE ONLY and is NOT meant for you to copy.

common application essay examples prompts
common application essay examples prompts

Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 7

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. 

Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 7 

This is the most popular Common App essay prompt, with 24.1% of students choosing it on the 2021-2022 Common App. 

This question is probably the most popular because it allows you to use an essay you’ve already written — meaning you have to do less work. Don’t be fooled though, the app reviewers know this, so they’ll likely evaluate the essay a bit harder.  

We highly recommend that you stick with one of the other prompts if you can. 

Why? The Common App essay prompts are designed to allow you to show your personality, identity, interests, skills, and goals through storytelling. They give the app reviewers the chance to understand what makes you unique as well the lessons and experiences you’ve had so far.

Each prompt targets a different aspect of your life and personality. 

The takeaway is that the essay you already have prepared probably wasn’t written with the same goals as the Common App essays ask of students. You might have written it for a class or in your spare time, and while it might show glimpses of who you are, it’s possible that it completely misses the mark. If this is the case, the app reviewers won’t understand you fully and get a clear picture of you beyond your grades and extracurriculars, and this could hurt your chances of acceptance. 

If you do have an essay you are thinking about using for this section, we recommend that you connect with a coach to make sure it has all the components that the app reviewers are looking for. 

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Common App FAQs

You asked, and we answered! 

Here are the most frequently asked questions about the Common App

What is Common App used for?

Common App is a free application tool that’s designed to simplify the application process for first year and transfer students as they apply and get into college.

With the Common App, you only need to complete one application for multiple colleges and universities (Common App has more than 900 member colleges/universities around the world).

When you create your account, you can complete your application, keep track of college-specific requirements, fees, deadlines, etc. as well as sending requests for recommenders and financial aid. 

The Common App makes the process much easier by having everything you need for your applications, all in one place.   

Who uses Common App?

The Common App is used by first-year students (both domestic and international) as well as transfer students (and their recommenders) to apply to over 900 member colleges and universities around the world.  

How does the Common App work?

Applicants create a Common App account and then fill out one application that can be sent to up to 20 colleges and/or universities

Each application includes 7 sections: Profile, Family, Education, Testing, Writing (Personal Essay and Additional Information), and Courses and Grades (see the section above for a full breakdown of each). 

Once you submit the Common App (and any other college-specific requirements like writing supplements or recommendations), each college/university assesses the application individually and makes their admission decision. 

When do I apply for Common App? 

The 2022-2023 Common App opens on August 1, 2022

You must submit the Common Application before the deadline of the college/university you’re applying to (and whether you are applying for early admission or regular admission). 

You can search for each school’s app deadlines by going to the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and clicking the ‘Application Requirements’ button to see the requirements for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list.

Is the Common App required when applying to college?

The Common App is designed to help make the admissions process easier, but it isn’t required when applying to college and/or university

There are other platforms available (such as the Coalition Application or the Universal Application) and most schools allow students to apply directly through their websites or unique application system. 

Check the requirements of the specific program you’re applying to and make sure you have all the application requirements covered.

Is the Common App worth it?

You might be wondering exactly why colleges and universities ask prospective students to complete the Common App. Trust us, it’s definitely worth the time.

Why? Apart from making the process easier by requiring one application for all the schools you’re applying to (plus any additional requirements or writing supplements), the Common App allows app reviewers to get to know you on a deeper, more personal level beyond your courses, grades and test scores. 

If you spend the time writing a unique and memorable Common App, you can make your application more competitive and increase your chances of getting into your top choice college/university — and your future is definitely worth the extra effort!

How long do Common Apps take?

While there’s no exact amount of time to complete the Common App, you should give yourself about 4 weeks for the whole process (brainstorm, write, proofread, final review, and submit). 

This is definitely an application you do not want to rush! Take your time and we promise it will pay off.

How many schools can you apply to on Common App? 

Common App allows students to add up to 20 colleges from one account.  

Do all colleges use and accept the Common Application? 

College App has over 900 partner colleges and universities around the world, including 60+ international universities and 250+ public colleges and universities. 

Not all colleges accept the Common Application. Around 600+ out of 2,400 colleges in the United States use Common App.

How much is the Common App?

Common App is free. However, each school has its own application fee, so be sure to do your research before applying. 

Almost half of Common App member schools don’t charge an app fee, and others offer a fee waiver for those who qualify. 

You can find each school’s application fee by going to the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and clicking the ‘Application Requirements’ button to see the requirements for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list.

Do I need a recommendation for all schools or just some?

Whether or not you need a recommendation letter depends on the individual school you’re applying to. The type of recommendation letter (e.g. counselor recommendation, teacher recommendation, other type of recommendation, etc.) also varies from school to school.

Some schools require a recommender, others don’t, and for others it’s optional. 

You can ask your teacher, counselor, etc. to write one letter of recommendation, and you can send this same letter to all the schools you’re applying to. 

Make sure you check each school’s requirements (go to the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and click the ‘Application Requirements’ button to see the requirements for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list).

How do I send a Common App recommendation?

Once you’ve created your Common App account, you can add recommenders to your application by clicking on the ‘My Colleges’ tab and then clicking on the name of the college on the left side of the page. There, you’ll see “Recommenders and FERPA” in the dropdown menu. 

Then, sign the release form and click the “Invite Recommenders” button. Common App will email your recommender with instructions on how to complete their letter for you. 

Invite a recommender for every school you want to send a letter to. The recommender’s letter will be sent directly to the school.

How do I submit the Common App? 

Here’s a breakdown of how to complete your Common App, so you can make sure you don’t miss anything. If you have any questions about this process, connect with a coach anytime for support.

Step 1: Create a Common App Account by clicking here. Then, select what type of applicant you are (first year, transfer, education professional, or parent) and insert your email, create a password, and then fill out the information it asks (name, birthday, etc.).

Step 2: Once you log in, click on the ‘College Search’ tab at the top of the page and type in each college you plan on applying to. Click the + (add) button for each one. These will appear in the ‘My Colleges’ tab at the top of the page when you’re done. Explore colleges here.

At the top right corner of the ‘College Search’ page, you will see a button for ‘Application Requirements’. Here, you can type in each college you want to apply to, and then get a quick snapshot of the specific deadlines, fees, Common App requirements (like if you need a Personal Essay), standardized tests, etc. If you want a more detailed breakdown for each college, go to ‘My Colleges’ and click on the specific college you’re looking for. 

Step 3: When you’ve completed your college list, click on the ‘Common App’ tab and complete all this information (keep reading for a detailed breakdown of each section of the app). 

Step 4: Complete the Common App question, including the Personal Essay from the list of Common App essay prompts. 

Step 5: Check and see whether the colleges you’re applying to have any other writing requirements or supplements. If they do, make sure to complete those as well.

Step 6: Review your entire application.

Step 7: Pay the fee (if applicable) and submit the application.

REMEMBER: The above steps are for first year applicants. If you’re a transfer student, learn more about the application and how to submit it here. If you’re an international student, learn how to complete and submit your application here.

How many Common App essays are required for 2022-2023?

You must write an essay on ONE out of the 7 Common App essay prompts. 

Before getting started on your essay, check out the essay prompts breakdowns, templates, and examples we provided earlier on in this guide to learn how to write a memorable and unique essay.

What Common App essay should I choose?

A lot of students ask our Youth Coaches which Common App essay they should write

With 7 prompts, it can be super tough to choose, especially when there is more than one you know you could write a really strong essay for. 

As a first step, we always tell our students to read through all the questions at once. Is there a question that sticks out to you right away? If not, go through each and make some quick bullet points under each one.

When thinking about what prompt to choose, ask yourself these questions: 

  • What aspects of my personality do I want to highlight in my application?
  • What are the top 3 things I want to showcase about myself in this application? Which prompt can help me do that?
  • What is the thing that makes me most unique? Which prompt will give me the chance to talk about this more and differentiate myself from other applicants?
  • Will this question paint a clear picture of who I am, and my experiences, skills, values, and goals? 
  • Do I have a specific experience, interest, belief, hobby, etc. that fits in perfectly with one of the prompts? 
  • Have I learned something about myself recently that has changed my outlook on life? Which prompt will allow me to talk about this more?
  • Is there something about myself that I feel I haven’t discussed enough in the other parts of my application? Which prompt will help me highlight that specific thing in my Personal Essay?

If you need help deciding which prompt to choose, remember that our Youth Coaches are always here to help!

Which Common App prompt is most popular?

According to Common App, 68.9% of students pick 1 of 3 Common App essay prompts

The most popular is Prompt #7 (“Share an essay on any topic of your choice…”), with 24.1% of students choosing it on the 2021-2022 Common App. 

Followed up Prompt #5 (“Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself and others”) with 23.7%. In third is Prompt #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?) with 21.1% of applicants picking it. 

common application essay examples prompts

Prompt #7 is probably the most popular because it allows you to use an essay you’ve already written — meaning you have to do less work. Don’t be fooled though, the app reviewers know this, so they’ll probably evaluate the essay a bit harder.  

But remember, just because these three prompts are the most popular DOESN’T mean you have to choose one of them. 

In fact, if you can create a well written, unique, and compelling essay on one of the other 3 essay prompts, it might actually help your chances of standing out from almost 70% of applicants (and increase your chances of admission success). Sometimes it pays to go against the crowd. 🙂

How long is the Common App essay?

The Common App essay has a limit of 650 words, and must be at least 250 words

This isn’t very much space, so you should focus on being as clear and concise as possible and cut out repetitive or necessary sentences during the editing process. Check out our templates and examples above to help you write a memorable and unique essay.

Do Common App prompts change?

The Common App essay prompts are very similar year to year, except for a couple changes here and there. 

For example, in the 2021-2022 Common App, there was only one prompt that changed from the 2020-2021 Common App (Prompt #4, “Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?”). 

The 2022-2023 Common App essay prompts are the same as the 2021-2022 application.

How to complete the Common App activities section?

The Activities section of the Common App allows you to tell the app reviewers more about you beyond your courses and grades

Here, you can discuss any activities you participate in outside of the classroom, like clubs, community involvement, hobbies, sports, work, volunteering, hobbies, and more. 

These will all help give a better sense about what’s important to you, what you’re interested in, and how you’re building important skills like communication, teamwork, leadership, problem solving, etc.

You can include up to 10 activities in this section. 

To complete the Common App activities section, go to the ‘Common App’ tab on your Dashboard, and click the ‘Activities’ section on the left side.

The form will ask: “Do you have any activities that you wish to report?”. Answer ‘Yes’.

You will be asked for the following information for each activity:

  • Activity Type: Academic, Art, Career Oriented, etc. Choose the one that is most applicable to the specific activity.
  • Position Description: List your role and responsibilities (max 50 characters)
  • Organization Name (max 100 characters)
  • Activity Description: Focus on quantifiable accomplishments, like awards you received, money earned, people you managed, hours worked, etc. (max 150 characters)
  • Participation Grade Levels: From grades 9-12 or after you graduated high school 
  • Timing of Participation: When you took part in this activity (during the school year, during break, or all year).
  • Hours spent per week
  • Weeks spent per year 
  • Whether you intend to continue this activity in college 

Here’s a template you can use for you Common App Activities List.

Here’s an example of what this section might look like:

common application essay examples prompts

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You’ve Got a Dedicated Coach in Your Corner

For over a decade, we have worked with thousands of students to help them achieve more than they ever thought possible. 

Our coaches have a strong success rate supporting students as they complete the Common App and get into their top universities and colleges. 

Our 1-on-1 Youth Coaching fills that gap that most high schools miss. We can help you build self-awareness through probing questions and assessments, set bigger goals to elevate your extracurriculars and future career plans, and improve skills that matter on supplementary applications, such as interviewing, written communication, critical thinking, and creativity. 

We use a coaching methodology, called ‘full student’ development, that’s been proven to increase your chances of admission to top-tier universities and obtaining competitive jobs/internships. 

So, what are you waiting for? Fulfill your post-secondary potential with the mentorship and coaching you’ve always wanted!

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