Weekly College Column

Dissecting the essay questions

March 24, 2022

Last week’s column (https://bierercollegeconsulting.com/application-choices/) reviewed the basic differences between the two largest application platforms: Coalition: www.coalitionforcollegeaccess.org/  and the Common App: www.commonapp.org. This week I’d like to talk about the essay questions themselves.

Here are the prompts for the 2022-2023 Common Application:

  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 obstacles we encounter can e 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?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. 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?
  5. Discuss an accomplishment event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  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?
  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.

Here are the prompts for the 2022 – 2023 Coalition application:

  1. Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
  2. What interests or excites you? How does it shape who you are now or who you might become in the future?
  3. Describe a time when you had a positive impact on others. What were the challenges? What were the rewards?
  4. Has there been a time when an idea or belief of yours was questioned? How did you respond? What did you learn?
  5. What success have you achieved or obstacle have you faced? What advice would you give a sibling or friend going through a similar experience?
  6. Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

We can immediately see the parallels in the prompts. Beyond the “topic of choice” prompts on both applications, the Coalition’s prompt # 5 is almost identical to the Common App’s # 2 – talk about challenges you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome them. The theme of overcoming challenges speaks to a student’s character, grit, and motivation. It is also a natural foundation for solid storytelling which is one of the tenets of a strong college application essay. Telling the reader a story that shares who you are, your life experiences, your vulnerabilities, and what you’re made of, allows the reader to get to know you and makes for an interesting read.

The Coalition’s prompt # 1 is a combo of the CA # 1 and # 5: tell a story about your character or an event that sparked a period of personal growth; i.e., something essential to who you are.

Similarly, Coalition’s prompt # 2 – what interests or excites you, focuses on what gets you jazzed, i.e., what makes you lose all track of time, CA # 6. And, prompt # 3 for Coalition and # 4 in CA are both focused on gratitude – what impact have you had on others and what are you thankful for? Lastly – Coalition’s prompt # 4 is more about a belief of yours that was challenged and in the CA, it is a more active response about when have YOU challenged a belief or idea.

So, there’s a lot of overlap and if students are using both applications, it should be very easy to recycle the same essay.

Bierer is an independent college consultant based in Charlotte. Send questions to: leesbierer@gmail.com and visit www.bierercollegeconsulting.com. 

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