Much to the relief of the cottage industry that’s grown up to support college essay preparation, the Common Application recently announced that the 2016-17 personal statement prompts will remain the same as the 2015-16 prompts.
According to Scott Anderson, Senior Director for Programs and Partnerships, the Common Application is considering “revisiting” the prompts every other year. In the meantime, “We reached out to our membership and asked ‘How are they working for you?’”
Evidently, the response was positive enough to encourage the Common App to keep things just the way they are, despite whatever grumblings might exist within certain sectors to return to the “Essay of your choice” prompt—a long-time favorite of applicants in years past.
According to the Common App, the prompts are “designed to elicit information that will strengthen” and hopefully support other components of the application.
“We want to make sure that every applicant can find a home within the essay prompts, and that they can use the prompts as a starting point to write an essay that is authentic and distinguishing,” explained Anderson
With the release of the essay prompts and the announcement that student accounts created now will rollover to 2016-17, the Common App has begun a process designed to get out in front of competition looming in the form of the Coalition Application, by encouraging early “brand” loyalty on the part of counselors and future applicants.
Presumably, students who open Common Application accounts and think about specific Common App essay prompts are more likely to use that product for college applications. Similarly, counselors using the Common App to introduce the application process to high school juniors will effectively be promoting one product over the other.
Early introduction and virtual endorsements of brands are not bad for consumers. They are sound marketing moves especially in the case where consumers are adolescents who will be asked to make a choice between application products for colleges using both the Common App and the Coalition Application.
And make no mistake. The Coalition is also beginning to engage consumers through a marketing plan designed to bring attention to its brand. By attaching itself to a report recently released by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Coalition appears to be seeking association with a kinder and gentler college application process.
But the Common App is already steps ahead of the Coalition in terms of name recognition as well as product positioning and utilization. And they have lots of data on applicants and their essay preferences.
For example, of the more than 800,000 unique applicants who have already submitted during the 2015-16 application cycle, 47 percent chose to write about their background, identity, interest, or talent—not surprising insofar as this prompt comes closest to providing an essay of your choice alternative.
Other prompts were less popular: 22 percent of the 201-16 applicants wrote about an accomplishment; 17 percent about a lesson or failure; ten percent about a problem solved, and four percent about an idea challenged.
And among college admissions representatives, some prompts were more popular than others.
“Speaking from the college side, when I see that a student has responded to the prompt about challenging a belief or idea, I get excited. Those are consistently the most interesting essays – and I think that if more students challenge themselves to answer that prompt, they might even surprise themselves,” said Drew Riley, Associate Director of Admissions at Saint Mary’s College of California.
Others complained about receiving an unusually high number of essays reporting on failure—a topic that sometimes inspires inappropriate confessionals or the release of “too much information” from applicants.
For the record, the 2016-17 Common Application prompts will inspire essays between 250 and 650 words on the following topics:
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 failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
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.
5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.