The college application essay is a requirement for many colleges and universities. In some cases, the essay prompt is open-ended, and it can be difficult to decipher what the admissions board is looking for. In other cases, the application includes a number of essay prompts to choose from. In either case, students will respond to a prompt and then choose a topic to write about in their college application essay.
In this article, we will break down everything you need to know about choosing a topic for your college application essay, and then talk about how to answer the essay prompts provided in college applications in 2022-23.
What Is The Admissions Board Looking For In A College Application Essay?
When selecting a topic, you will need to consider the experiences, people, stories, or ideas that are important to you. The goal of a college application essay is to introduce yourself beyond the numbers in your application. The college admissions counselor reviewing your application will already have a numerical understanding of your academic career through your GPA, and test scores. The essay allows them to a look beyond your performance data to dive deeper into who you are. The essay is another opportunity to deepen the reader’s understanding of your interests, goals, and values. The college admissions counselor should be able to envision your impact on campus by getting to know you on a deeper level through your writing.
Understanding the purpose of the college application essay is a crucial first step to choosing a topic to write about. Now let’s talk about the various prompts, and evaluate how to answer them on your 2022-2023 application.
How To Answer College Application Essay Prompts 2022-23
Every year, the Common Application offers seven prompts for students to choose from. Applicants will select one prompt to write a 650 word personal essay. Not all colleges and universities use these prompts, but the topics are great options to choose from if your application has an open ended prompt for a personal essay. If you are writing an essay for the Common Application, these are the prompts you will choose from. If you are writing an open ended personal essay, use these prompts as inspiration as you brainstorm and select your own topics.
Here are the seven prompts offered in the 2022-23 Common Application.
- 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.
To answer this essay prompt, write a personal essay that tells a story about your personal history. Be sure to answer the whole prompt by getting specific. What is the background information that is meaningful to you? Do you have a cultural or familial identity that is crucial to understanding who you are? What interests, talents, or passions should your reader know about? You do not need to write about all of these things, but select a focused story that explains how your “background”, “identity”, “interest”, or “talent” is meaningful to understanding who you are.
- 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?
The best essays that answer this prompt are able to successfully illustrate growth. Resilience, adjustability, and perseverance can be highlighted through vulnerable and honest essays. If you select this prompt, be sure to tell a story that highlights your ability to learn from your mistakes. Recovering from failures, and navigating obstacles to achieve success shows your ability to foster strengths through adversity. If you have life experiences that set you apart from other applicants, tell your story. If you select this prompt, do not dwell on the past: instead, focus on how you have grown, and how you can apply the lessons learned to your future endeavors. The reader is looking to understand how you can make an impact on their campus. Again, be sure to answer the entire prompt: how have the obstacles you have faced affected you, and what did you learn?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
Essays that respond to this prompt are an opportunity to elaborate on the way you see the world. Talking about your personal perspective and worldview can be a very powerful way to talk about who you are. To ground your narrative, you may consider these questions:
- What was the experience or moment that sparked your questioning or resistance?
- When you challenged the belief or idea, what happened?
- Did discussions take place, or did you do some research on your own?
- What did you learn about opposing points of view?
- Was your perspective swayed by the conversations you had or research you did?
If you have a point of view that goes against the grain, or if you have experienced people, events, or places that are challenging to your beliefs or ideas, write about the outcomes that have shaped you into the person you are today. An important part of this prompt is answering the question, “What was the outcome?”. To answer this prompt in full, make sure to dedicate a significant part of the essay to reflection, focusing on the ways you grew or transformed your ideological practices upon being exposed to new viewpoints. How will you face these kinds of differences in opinion in the future? A great talking point may be evaluating your reactions. Be sure to describe your experience and explain how it has impacted your values.
- 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?
A great way to get to know someone is by learning about their greatest motivations and joys. To answer this prompt, tell a story about a time someone has served you. What has someone done for you that you remember and are grateful for? This prompt asks you to write about an act of service that was surprising to you. To write a complete essay under this prompt, consider why you were surprised and how their actions brought happiness.
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
This type of essay focuses on the things that have inspired you. Writing about your source of inspiration can be very vulnerable, and you may find that writing about the way you understand yourself and others takes a large amount of thought. To write a successful essay under this prompt, consider the things that are most important to you, and reflect on the influential accomplishments, events, or realizations that sparked understanding and interest. You can write about a new understanding of yourself or a developed understanding of others. Be sure to ground your essay by focusing on a specific story that served as a catalyst for personal growth.
- 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?
This essay prompt highlights your passions. Be sure to answer every part of the prompt! Failing to discuss why the topic, idea, or concept is important to you, or what you do when you want to deepen your understanding misses out on a large portion of the discussion the prompt asks for. This essay prompt is a great option for students who are investing their time and energy toward their passions. If you are struggling to select a topic for your essay, think about the topics, ideas, and concepts you prioritize in your life. Take time to reflect on why you are passionate enough to give this topic significant time in your day.
- 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.
This last prompt serves as an opportunity to show off another type of writing, or to select your own prompt that gives the college admissions board an idea of who you are. If none of these prompts speak to you, you may write a personal essay using your own prompt. This prompt makes sense for students who are exceptional creative writers. If you feel like your artistry as a writer can only be shown through your creative work, consider this prompt. If you feel like the reader can only understand who you are and what you plan to bring to their campus through your creative work, then you can write an essay that responds to any prompt.
How To Be Successful When Responding To Other Essay Prompts
Not all applications follow these specific essay prompts listed above. Instead, the application will ask you to provide a personal narrative under their own prompt. Some key factors to consider when writing any personal essay are focusing the writing on yourself, telling a story, and avoiding cliches.
- Write About Yourself
Be sure that you focus on your own ideas, experiences, thoughts, relationships, and challenges. Some students save the self reflection portion of their writing for the last paragraph of their essay, minimizing the time they spend talking about themselves. This is a huge mistake. The majority of your essay should focus on you! As you brainstorm which topic to choose for your essay, spend significant time reflecting on yourself. This self reflection will be crucial to writing a strong essay.
- Tell A Specific Story
Do not write an essay that is generic or anonymous. It should have a voice that is unique to you. One way to give your essay a strong voice is by getting vulnerable and honest. Tell a story the way you would tell it in person, and you may try to add elements of your own diction. It should also give details that make the reader feel close to you. As you tell a story about someone or something that has impacted you, make a list of the sensory things you can recall from the experience. You can pull the reader into your memories and the moment by adding details like imagery. Your essay should also highlight your thoughts, questions, and goals that are central to your growth and personality. What about the experience shifted something in your perspective or brought something new to your attention? Again, self reflection will play a large role in your preparation and planning for your college application essay. To be successful in your topic selection, tell a specific story with details that bring the reader in.
- Avoid Cliches
You can avoid cliche topics by selecting a prompt that requires deep reflection. Some cliche topics that the college admissions board will have encountered before are
- Essays about winning a sports game
- Essays about working hard to improve your grades in a difficult class
- Essays about going on a volunteer trip
- Essays about your role models
These topics can feel quite generic, and your self reflection portion of the essay may be very similar to another student who is writing about the same topic. Get personal! Upon brainstorming and drafting their essays, a lot of students find that the topic they start out with is too cliche. Your goal with a college application essay is to make an impression and stand out. To stand out, avoid cliche topics that your reader will have read before.
Choosing a topic for your college application essay is not easy. Writing about yourself will require deep brainstorming and consideration of the things that are important to you. Be sure that you select a topic that highlights a specific story or experience in your life. What kinds of events, experiences, values, people, obstacles, or passions have shaped who you are? If you are struggling to select a topic, you can brainstorm and outline essays for each prompt.
Writing a college application essay takes time, and selecting a topic requires trial and error for some students. As you prepare to write a college application essay, you may write more than one draft. This experimental process is a good way to test the prompts and find out which outline and prompt feels true to you. You may be surprised which prompt inspires the best story. Take the time to flesh out some ideas by working through each prompt in the brainstorming phase of your work. You may be surprised which questions spark great writing and reflection.
The college application essay will be different from the essays you are used to writing in your high school English classes, so plan to spend more time than usual selecting your essay topic. You can also expect to submit more personal content and write a reflective essay that is grounded by telling a story. Which prompt speaks to you? Which prompt offers the best opportunity for you to tell your story?
Choose A Topic That Allows You To Stand Out To The Reader
It is also very important to remember who your reader is. The person reading your essay is making a decision on whether or not to admit you to the college or university. They will have read many personal essays before yours lands on their desk. You need to choose a topic that allows you to tell a story that makes you stand out.
The reader needs to get to know you as a student beyond your GPA and test scores.
The best college application essays stand out from the massive amount of papers your reader will encounter when evaluating applicants. If you want to stand out and make an impression, write a paper that is personal. The reader wants to know about the things that are important to you, and being genuine, honest, and maybe even vulnerable, is a great way to introduce yourself.
Now that you know how to choose a college application essay topic and how to answer the college application essay prompts that you may encounter in 2022 and 2023, you can begin planning to write! The college application essay will require significant preparation work, and a lot of the time spent should be dedicated to self reflection and brainstorming. If you write a first draft and the topic you selected is not working the way you imagined it would, you may need to write another draft that tells a different story or responds to a different prompt. Expect to go through a process of trial and error.
If you need help brainstorming topics, outlining your essay, writing your first draft, editing your work, or perfecting your final copy, you should know that a FLEX College Prep college essay instructor is prepared to help you every step of the way. To write the best essay possible, it is crucial to have another set of eyes read your work. To maximize the potential of your work, you can work with one of our admissions consultants who knows exactly what colleges and universities are looking for. If you need support in the college application process, FLEX’s admissions consultants can maximize your chances of admissions.
Students need to stand out in the competitive admissions landscape. FLEX College Prep is a team of the best strategists in the industry. Get clarity and support in your college application process. Get into your dream school.