What Do the New Common App Prompts Really Mean? Part 2

By Kim Lifton

This is the second of two blogs analyzing the new Common App essay prompts for the 2013-14 college admission cycle. Our goal is to help you better understand what you need to do to stand out in the crowded field of college applicants. We will focus on prompts 3, 4 and 5 in this blog; Wow explained what we think prompts 1 and 2 mean in the our last blog.

#3) Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

During high school, you are constantly asked to look toward the future: Where are you going? What do you want to do with your life? Where will you attend college? What career will you pursue? Your college application essay offers an opportunity to look back, and this prompt is a prime example.

In this case, the central story will be a time when you challenged a belief or idea. Maybe the idea was religious or political. Perhaps it was a family rule or a school requirement. Did you challenge something you had always believed in, or question something but never spoke out against it?

The prompt asks you to reflect on one specific time. Again, think of yourself as a storyteller. Choose a single, vivid story that illustrates your point.

#4) Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

By asking why the place or environment is meaningful to you, readers hope to learn something about you, not the place. You might describe your uncle’s auto repair shop or your favorite city park in vivid detail, but that description is meaningless unless you focus on why your favorite place is meaningful to you. To do this, show some reflection. What do you do in your favorite place? What does it mean to you? Choose a story that illustrates why this particular place or environment is important to you. Draw the reader in.

#5) Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Do not assume you must write about your bar mitzvah service, confirmation ceremony, Quinceañera party or debutante ball. The key phrase here is “marked your transition” from childhood to adulthood. Maybe you were recently invited to sit at the adults’ table for Thanksgiving dinner, or you bought a car with your own money. Why was this experience important? Why do you consider it a transition point in your life? Whether that experience is related to your culture, your community or your family, it can be equally relevant. In this case, you are being asked to demonstrate how you changed as a result of an experience that marked your transition to adulthood.

No matter what question you select, remember that what you have to say is far more important than the prompt or word count. Your job is to get the application reader to like you and make that person want to know more about you.

The questions are out, so it’s not too early to start writing. And we’re sweetening the deal! For a limited time only, you can save $50 off one student license for Wow Online – College Essay, the first self-guided online tutorial for writing college application essays. The price goes up to $149 after July 1.

*A license allows one student access to Wow Online – College Essay from now till the end of the application essay season.

Kim Lifton is president of Wow Writing Workshop, which teaches students how to write compelling college admissions essays using a proprietary 10-step Wow Method. Wow also teaches ACT/SAT writing prep courses.