Every year, the Common Application updates its application for the next admissions cycle. The changes are usually minor, but for the upcoming 2013-2014 cycle, a more significant update is in the works. This coming year, in addition to other changes that are yet to be announced, college applicants will have entirely new essay prompts and word limits.
The new word limit is 650 words, and the instructions have additional commentary. “…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.)”
In prior years, the Common Application suggested that essays be between 250 and 500 words, but in actuality, students could submit essays that were either shorter or longer. The new specificity encourages students to use more depth and detail in writing their essays, enabling admissions committees to see a substantive writing sample from every applicant.
The essay prompts themselves are also quite different. The intention is to have essay options that appeal to a wider range of students, and clearly encourage every student to tell his/her unique story. Take a look at the new essay prompts:
- Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
- Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
- Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
- Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
If you’re a rising senior, take some time to review the new essay prompts and see what appeals to you. You don’t have to start writing now, but as you continue through junior year and as you go into your summer vacation, you can keep these prompts in mind, take notes, and start collecting ideas. That way, when you do begin the writing process in earnest, you won’t have to start from scratch.