Common Application adds two new prompts, alters three old ones


The Common Application changed its essays for the 2017-2018 application season. The essays are more general and allow for more self-expression. Photo by Tomas Castro.

By Lily Friedman

Each year, seniors partake in Whitman traditions like car decorating, the Philly cheesesteak challenge and guy poms. Among these beloved practices is another less popular one: filling out the Common Application, an online universal college application platform.

But next year’s seniors’ college essays may differ from this years’ due to new and altered Common Application essay prompts for 2017-2018 applications.

The Common Application, which currently has five essay prompts, will feature seven prompts next year; two prompts will stay the same, three will receive minor changes and two will be completely new. One new prompt allows students to choose a completely free-form essay, even if they’ve already written it before filling out the application.

The organization changes its prompts once every two years to give students a wider platform to express themselves, according to their website.

We want to make sure that every applicant can find a home within the essay prompts,” Common App representative Scott Anderson said. “[Students] can use the prompts as a starting point to write an essay that is authentic and distinguishing.”

Despite the changes, some students think that updating essay prompts won’t have a significant impact on the application process.

“You still have to write an essay and many prompts are already vague,” counselor Kari Wislar said.

Some students who have already applied to college voiced support for expanding the prompts because they give students more options, senior Emma Cohen-Dumani said.

“I had a really personal scenario for one of the prompts, but if I didn’t, more prompts would have helped,” Cohen-Dumani said. “The prompts may give people more room to express themselves and show who they are.”


The Washington Post published the new prompts Feb. 7. Italics represent revisions or additions to 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. [No change]
  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? [Revised]
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? [Revised]
  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 that is 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. [No change]
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. [Revised]
  6. Describe a topic, idea or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? [New]
  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. [New]