2019-2020 Common App essay prompts

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UPDATE:  Read our update about the 2020-2021 essay prompts here .

The Common Application has announced that the 2019-2020 essay prompts will remain the same as the 2018-2019 essay prompts. Based on extensive counselor feedback, the existing essay prompts provide great flexibility for applicants to tell their unique stories in their own voice. Retaining the essay prompts provides the added benefit of consistency for students, counselors, parents, and members during the admissions process. Plus, with essay prompts remaining the same, students rolling over their existing Common App accounts have more time to plan and prepare their applications prior to the final year of high school.

Counselors looking to get a head start with application workshops this year can take advantage of Common App Ready, a suite of on-demand resources, training videos, and infosheets, details everything students, counselors, and families need to know about using the Common App. This resource includes details on application creation, detailed descriptions of each section, and submission requirements. The tool also includes Spanish language resources.

2019-2020 Common Application Essay Prompts

  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • 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.
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • 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?
  • 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.

During the 2018-2019 application year, the most popular topic of choice was: “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.” (24.1%). The next most popular topics were: “Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.” (23.7%), followed by “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?” (21.1%).

"The prompts as they exist today offer a broad range of approaches, accommodating students with a diverse set of experiences and ideas about the world to respond in a thoughtful and illuminating manner,"' said Ian Watson, Associate Director of College Counseling at The Rivers School (Weston, MA).

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2019-2020 Common App Essay Prompts

January 15, 2019

college essay prompts 2019

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

This well-worn idiom captures the mindset of the decision-makers at the Common Application who announced this January that the essay prompts for the upcoming 2019-20 admissions cycle will be the same as they were in 2018-2019. In the opinion of the College Transitions staff, the choice not to tinker was a wise one. A quick look at the data shows that the prompts, as presently constituted, received rave reviews across the board—more than 90% of admissions officers, guidance counselors, parents, and students rated the selections positively.

In this blog we will review:

  • What are the 2019-20 Common Application Prompts?
  • The most popular Common App prompts that students choose
  • Advice on brainstorming/writing your Common App essay

The 2019-20 Common Application Prompts are…

#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 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?

#3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

#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, 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

Which prompts are most popular?

In 2018-19, the most frequently selected topic was #7, the “topic of your choice” essay. This prompt was chosen by 24.1% of applicants. Prompt #5, the “discuss an accomplishment” essay was a close second, attracting 23.7% of seniors. The bronze medal went to prompt #2, the “challenge, setback, or failure” themed essay, which netted 21.1% of Common App filers. Overall, the three most popular prompts accounted for 68.9% of applicants.

These rankings changed slightly from the 2017-18 cycle, when prompt #5 held a slight advantage over prompt #7 for the top spot and the third place finisher was actually #1—the “background, identity, interest, or talent” prompt.

Advice on brainstorming/writing your essay

  • At College Transitions, we offer advice for each stage of the writing process and invite you to revisit previous posts on Common App essay related topics.
  • Our Simple Truths about the College Essay will give you a broad overview of what you are hoping to accomplish with your 650-word opportunity to express a compelling and original aspect of yourself.
  • Even if you are only a junior finishing up your first semester, it is never too early to begin thinking about your Common App essay. In fact, getting an early start can relieve stress during the hectic admissions frenzy of your senior year and result in a superior and more polished product. Visit our Brainstorming the Common Application Essay to learn where you should start.
  • If you’re still stuck in neutral, consult Part I and Part II of our tips for “Getting those words on that page.”
  • Advice on what to do is useful, but tips on what not to do are of equal importance. Check out our Five Essay Topics to Avoid to discover what topics admissions officers are sure to find unappealing, off-putting, or downright gross.
  • If you are a real go-getter, you may also wish to get a start on the most prevalent Common App supplement required by colleges—the “Why this College Essay.” Reference our guide for mastering the “Why this College” essay .
  • College Essay

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Dave Bergman

Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).

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CollegeVine's essay prompt database

Find your college’s application essay prompts for 2023-24

Latest essay prompts for the top 100 schools.

At CollegeVine, our goal is to make the college application process a little less stressful, so we’ve compiled the latest essay prompts for the top 100 schools in one easy, searchable database.

Also, every year we create free guides on “ How to Write X School’s Essays ” for the top 100 schools. In these guides, we give you tips and tricks on how to approach each prompt. As such, our prompt database also contains a link to each school's Essay Breakdown.

Manage your college essays in one place for free.

college essay prompts 2019

The 2021-22 Common Application Essay Prompts

Tips and Guidance for the 7 Essay Options on the New Common Application

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For the 2021-22 application cycle, the Common Application  essay prompts remain unchanged from the 2020-21 cycle with the exception of an all new option #4. As in the past, with the inclusion of the popular "Topic of Your Choice" option, you have the opportunity to write about anything you want to share with the folks in the admissions office.

The current prompts are the result of much discussion and debate from the member institutions who use the Common Application. The essay length limit stands at 650 words (the minimum is 250 words), and students will need to choose from the seven options below. The essay prompts are designed to encourage reflection and introspection. The best essays focus on self-analysis, rather than spending a disproportionate amount of time merely describing a place or event. Analysis, not description, will reveal the critical thinking skills that are the hallmark of a promising college student. If your essay doesn't include some self-analysis, you haven't fully succeeded in responding to the prompt.

According to the folks at the Common Application , in the 2018-19 admissions cycle, Option #7 (topic of your choice) was the most popular and was used by 24.1% of applicants. The second most popular was Option #5 (discuss an accomplishment) with 23.7% of applicants. In third place was Option #2 on a setback or failure. 21.1% of applicants chose that option.

From the Admissions Desk

"While the transcript and grades will always be the most important piece in the review of an application, essays can help a student stand out. The stories and information shared in an essay are what the Admissions Officer will use to advocate for the student in the admissions committee."

–Valerie Marchand Welsh Director of College Counseling, The Baldwin School Former Associate Dean of Admissions, University of Pennsylvania

Always keep in mind why colleges are asking for an essay: they want to get to know you better. Nearly all selective colleges and universities (as well as many that aren't overly selective) have holistic admissions, and they consider many factors in addition to numerical measures such as grades and standardized test scores. Your essay is an important tool for presenting something you find important that may not come across elsewhere in your application. Make sure your essay presents you as the type of person a college will want to invite to join their community.

Below are the seven options with some general tips for each:

Option #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.

"Identity" is at the heart of this prompt. What is it that makes you you? The prompt gives you a lot of latitude for answering the question since you can write a story about your "background, identity, interest, or talent." Your "background" can be a broad environmental factor that contributed to your development such as growing up in a military family, living in an interesting place, or dealing with an unusual family situation. You could write about an event or series of events that had a profound impact on your identity. Your "interest" or "talent" could be a passion that has driven you to become the person you are today. However you approach the prompt, make sure you are inward looking and explain how and why  the story you tell is so meaningful. 

  • See more Tips and Strategies for Essay Option #1
  • Sample essay for option #1: "Handiwork" by Vanessa
  • Sample essay for option #1: "My Dads" by Charlie
  • Sample essay for option #1: "Give Goth a Chance"
  • Sample essay for option #1: "Wallflower"

Option #2  

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?

This prompt may seem to go against everything that you've learned on your path to college. It's far more comfortable in an application to celebrate successes and accomplishments than it is to discuss setbacks and failure. At the same time, you'll impress the college admissions folks greatly if you can show your ability to learn from your failures and mistakes. Be sure to devote significant space to the second half of the question—how did you learn and grow from the experience? Introspection and honesty are key with this prompt.

  • See more Tips and Strategies for Essay Option #2
  • Sample essay for option #2: "Striking Out" by Richard
  • Sample essay for option #2: "Student Teacher" by Max

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Keep in mind how open-ended this prompt truly is. The "belief or idea" you explore could be your own, someone else's, or that of a group. The best essays will be honest as they explore the difficulty of working against the status quo or a firmly held belief. The answer to the final question about the "outcome" of your challenge need not be a success story. Sometimes in retrospection, we discover that the cost of an action was perhaps too great. However you approach this prompt, your essay needs to reveal one of your core personal values. If the belief you challenged doesn't give the admissions folks a window into your personality, then you haven't succeeded with this prompt.

  • See more Tips and Strategies for Essay Option #3
  • Sample essay for option #3: "Gym Class Hero" by Jennifer

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?

Here, again, the Common Application gives you a lot of options for approaching the question since it is entirely up to you to decide what the "something" and "someone" will be. This prompt was added to the Common Application in the 2021-22 admissions cycle in part because it gives students the opportunity to write something heartfelt and uplifting after all the challenges of the previous year. The best essays for this prompt show that you are a generous person who recognizes the contributions others have made to your personal journey. Unlike many essays that are all about "me, me, me," this essay shows your ability to appreciate others. This type of generosity is an important character trait that schools look for when inviting people to join their campus communities.

  • See more Tips and Strategies for Essay Option #4

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

This question was reworded in 2017-18 admissions cycle, and the current language is a huge improvement. The prompt use to talk about transitioning from childhood to adulthood, but the new language about a "period of personal growth" is a much better articulation of how we actually learn and mature (no single event makes us adults). Maturity comes as the result of a long train of events and accomplishments (and failures). This prompt is an excellent choice if you want to explore a single event or achievement that marked a clear milestone in your personal development. Be careful to avoid the "hero" essay—admissions offices are often overrun with essays about the season-winning touchdown or brilliant performance in the school play (see the list of bad essay topics for more about this issue). These can certainly be fine topics for an essay, but make sure your essay is analyzing your personal growth process, not bragging about an accomplishment.

  • See more Tips and Strategies for Essay Option #5
  • Sample essay for option #5: "Buck Up" by Jill

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 option was entirely new in 2017, and it's a wonderfully broad prompt. In essence, it's asking you to identify and discuss something that enthralls you. The question gives you an opportunity to identify something that kicks your brain into high gear, reflect on why it is so stimulating, and reveal your process for digging deeper into something that you are passionate about. Note that the central words here—"topic, idea, or concept"—all have rather academic connotations. While you may lose track of time when running or playing football, sports are probably not the best choice for this particular question.

  • See more Tips and Strategies for Essay Option #6

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.

The popular "topic of your choice" option had been removed from the Common Application between 2013 and 2016, but it returned again with the 2017-18 admissions cycle. Use this option if you have a story to share that doesn't quite fit into any of the options above. However, the first six topics are extremely broad with a lot of flexibility, so make sure your topic really can't be identified with one of them. Also, don't equate "topic of your choice" with a license to write a comedy routine or poem (you can submit such things via the "Additional Info" option). Essays written for this prompt still need to have substance and tell your reader something about you. Cleverness is fine, but don't be clever at the expense of meaningful content.

  • See more Tips and Strategies for Essay Option #7
  • Sample essay for option #7: "My Hero Harpo" by Alexis
  • Sample essay for option #7: "Grandpa's Rubik's Cube"

Final Thoughts

Whichever prompt you chose, make sure you are looking inward. What do you value? What has made you grow as a person? What makes you the unique individual the admissions folks will want to invite to join their campus community? The best essays spend significant time with self-analysis rather than merely describing a place or event.

The folks at The Common Application have cast a wide net with these questions, and nearly anything you want to write about could fit under at least one of the options. If your essay could fit under more than one option, it really doesn't matter which one you choose. Many admissions officers, in fact, don't even look at which prompt you chose—they just want to see that you have written a good essay.

  • Tips for Writing an Essay on an Event That Led to Personal Growth
  • Tips for the Pre-2013 Personal Essay Options on the Common Application
  • Common Application Essay Option 2 Tips: Learning from Failure
  • Common Application Essay Option 3 Tips: Challenging a Belief
  • Common Application Essay on a Meaningful Place
  • 2020-21 Common Application Essay Option 4—Solving a Problem
  • "Grandpa's Rubik's Cube"—Sample Common Application Essay, Option #4
  • Common Application Essay, Option 1: Share Your Story
  • 5 Tips for a College Admissions Essay on an Important Issue
  • Tips for an Application Essay on a Significant Experience
  • How to Ace Your University of Wisconsin Personal Statements
  • Addressing Diversity in a College Application Essay
  • Tips for the 8 University of California Personal Insight Questions
  • The Length Requirements for the Common Application Essay in 2020-21
  • Tips for Writing a Winning College Transfer Essay
  • Private School Application Essay Tips

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By submitting my email address. i certify that i am 13 years of age or older, agree to recieve marketing email messages from the princeton review, and agree to terms of use., popular college application essay topics (and how to answer them).

Get help writing your college application essays. Find this year's Common App writing prompts and popular essay questions used by individual colleges.

The college essay is your opportunity to show admissions officers who you are apart from your grades and test scores (and to distinguish yourself from the rest of a very talented applicant pool).

brainstorming college application essay topics

2023–24 Common App Essays

Nearly 700 colleges accept the The Common Application , which makes it easy to apply to multiple schools with just one form. If you are using the Common App to apply for college admissions, you will have 250–650 words to respond to ONE of the following prompts:

  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • 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?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • 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?
  • 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.

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Read More: Get Expert Essay Advice From Former Admissions Officers!

Tackling the Common App Essay Prompts

Prompt #1: share your story..

Answer this prompt by reflecting on a hobby, facet of your personality, or experience that is genuinely meaningful and unique to you. Admissions officers want to feel connected to you and an honest, personal statement about who you are draws them in. Your love of superheroes, baking chops, or family history are all fair game if you can tie it back to who you are or what you believe in. Avoid a rehash of the accomplishments on your high school résumé and choose something that the admissions committee will not discover when reading the rest of your application.

Prompt #2: Learning from obstacles.

You're trying to show colleges your best self, so it might seem counterintuitive to willingly acknowledge a time you struggled. But overcoming challenges demonstrates courage, grit, and perseverance! That’s why the last piece of this prompt is essential. The obstacle you write about can be large or small, but you must show the admissions committee how your perspective changed as a result.

Perfect your college essay video

Prompt #3: Challenging a belief.

Your answer to this question could focus on a time you stood up to others or an experience when your own preconceived view was challenged. Choose this prompt if you have a relevant—and specific!—experience to recount (and reflect on). A vague essay about a hot button issue doesn’t tell the admissions committee anything useful about YOU.

Prompt #4: Reflecting on gratitude.

Colleges are looking for students with unique experiences that can enhance their future campus community, and this is your chance to share that by recognizing what someone else has done for you. Even though this prompt requires you to reflect on the action of another person, make sure that the focus remains on how the act of kindness impacted you and the way you live your life. This essay should make you and the reader smile.

Prompt #5: Personal growth.

Just like Prompt #2, the accomplishment or event you write about can be anything from a major milestone to a smaller "aha" moment. Describe the event or accomplishment that shaped you but take care to also show what you learned or how you changed. Colleges are looking for a sense of maturity and introspection—pinpoint the transformation and demonstrate your personal growth. 

Prompt #6: What captivates you?

This prompt is an invitation to write about something you care about. (So avoid the pitfall of writing about what you think will impress the admission office versus what truly matters to you). Colleges are looking for curious students, who are thoughtful about the world around them. The "what or who do you turn to when you want to learn more” bit isn't an afterthought—it's a key piece of the prompt. Make sure you explain how you pursue your interest, as well.

Read More: QUIZ: Test Your College Knowledge!

Prompt #7: Topic of your choice.

This question might be for you if you have a dynamo personal essay from English class to share or were really inspired by a question from another college’s application. You can even write your own question! Whatever topic you land on, the essentials of a standout college essay still stand: 1.) Show the admissions committee who you are beyond grades and test scores and 2.) Dig into your topic by asking yourself how and why. There isn’t a prompt to guide you, so you must ask yourself the questions that will get at the heart of the story you want to tell.

More College Essay Topics

Individual schools sometimes require supplemental essays. Here are a few popular application essay topics and some tips for how to approach them:

Describe a person you admire.

Avoid the urge to pen an ode to a beloved figure like Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln. The admissions committee doesn't need to be convinced they are influential people. Focus on yourself: Choose someone who has actually caused you to change your behavior or your worldview, and write about how this person influenced you .

Why do you want to attend this school?

Be honest and specific when you respond to this question. Avoid generalities like "to get a good liberal arts education” or “to develop career skills," and use details that show your interests: "I'm an aspiring doctor and your science department has a terrific reputation." Colleges are more likely to admit students who can articulate specific reasons why the school is a good fit for them beyond its reputation or ranking on any list. Use the college's website and literature to do your research about programs, professors, and other opportunities that appeal to you.

Read More: 5 Ways College Application Essays and High School Essays Are Different

What is a book you love?

Your answer should not be a book report. Don't just summarize the plot; detail why you enjoyed this particular text and what it meant to you. What does your favorite book reveal about you? How do you identify with it, and how has it become personal to you?

Again, be honest in answering this question—don't choose a classic from your literature class or a piece of philosophy just because you think it will make you seem smarter. Writing fluently and passionately about a book close to you is always better than writing shakily or generally about a book that doesn't inspire you.

What is an extracurricular activity that has been meaningful to you?

Avoid slipping into clichés or generalities. Take this opportunity to really examine an experience that taught you something you didn't previously know about yourself, got you out of your comfort zone, or forced you to grow. Sometimes it's better to write about something that was hard for you because you learned something than it is to write about something that was easy for you because you think it sounds admirable. As with all essay questions, the most important thing is to tell a great story: how you discovered this activity, what drew you to it, and what it's shown you about yourself.

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college essay prompts 2019

The 2020-2021 Common Application Essay Prompts Are Here

college essay prompts 2019

The Common Application has just announced that the essay prompts will be the same as those used in 2019-2020. Every cycle, the Common App offers six prompts that students can use to brainstorm great essay topics. There is also a seventh prompt to write on any topic of your choosing.

New to college applications? Keep reading this article to learn why these prompts matter, when to start your essay, and how you can be preparing for college applications now.

2020-2021 Common Application Essay Prompts

Here are the essay prompts from last year, which will be used again in this upcoming application cycle. Since we have worked with these prompts extensively in the past, we can confirm that these can inspire some pretty great essays.

Prompt #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.

Prompt #2: 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?

Prompt #3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Prompt #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.

Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Prompt #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?

Prompt #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.

What is the Purpose of the Common App Essay?

By the time you apply to college, you have gathered a long list of grades, test scores, and extracurricular accomplishments. But, while admissions officers are interested in seeing what you have done with your high school years, what they really want to know is who you are. When people read your college application, they want to know, “Is this someone who will succeed at our school?”

In your essay, you get to tell a story or two that introduces admissions officers to you as a candidate for their school. In your introduction, you want to come across as smart, thoughtful, and mature. Your essay should be deeply personal, error-free, and written in language that demonstrates you are prepared for the academic challenge of college.

What you choose to write about does not matter nearly as much as how you address the topic. We have seen winning essays on the alarm clock, Robotics Club, death, and home cooking. The commonality that all these essays shared was that they portrayed the author as a thoughtful person of good character. Just about any strong college essay will answer these four questions:

  • Why Am I Here?
  • What is Unique About Me?
  • What Matters to Me?

While the essay can be about any topic, the Common App provides a few suggestions to help students start out on the right foot. Whether you write to a prompt or brainstorm a fresh idea, make sure your essay addresses these for key questions. Before you begin writing essays, we recommend checking out our post How to Write the Common Application Essays 2019-2020 .

Ways to Prepare for College Applications Now

We recommend waiting until late summer or early fall of your Senior year before you begin writing personal essays. Those few months actually make a big difference in how students reflect on their lives and what anecdotes they choose to highlight. 

If you are eager to get a head start on the college application process, here are some goals you can shoot for now as a Junior:

1. Build an epic extracurricular profile.

If your goal is to ace your college applications, the single most important thing you can be doing (besides keeping your grades up) is to cultivate a crowning achievement of your extracurricular profile. Your Junior summer is your chance to demonstrate that you care deeply about these out-of-school interests. It’s your opportunity to show that you know how to maximize available resources to create something meaningful.

Take time as a Junior to think about what impact you want to have outside of the classroom. Think of positive experiences you have had leading up to this point when it comes to ECs. The more substantial of an impact your extracurricular endeavors make, the more competitive your application on the whole will be. 

Impact will look different for everybody. Some students have breadth of impact by planning a large event. Others accomplish depth of impact through a service project that supports a few people in a big way. Still others trailblaze, taking the first steps in the uncharted territories of an extracurricular activity that few students in their community pursue.

If you’re concerned about your extracurricular profile because you haven’t developed it much up until this point, there are still steps you can take to improve your ECs. See our post How to Improve Your Extracurriculars Junior and Senior Year for tips on how to make the most of the time you have left.

For more advice on how to craft a successful extracurricular profile, check out these CollegeVine posts:

Breaking Down the 4 Tiers of Extracurricular Activities

Your Complete List of Extracurricular Activities

Your Ultimate Guide to Summer Programs for High Schoolers

A Guide to Extracurricular Activities: Grade 11

2. Ask 2-3 people to write your letters of recommendation.

Think carefully about who should write these letters for you, and give them plenty of advance warning before your earliest deadline (at least one month). You should ideally ask teachers who know you both as a student, and in an extracurricular context; for example, your math teacher and debate advisor could be a good pick. This isn’t always possible of course, so you should always just aim for teachers who know you well and can speak very positively of you. You should also try to ask teachers you’ve had recently.

You can learn more about connecting with recommenders by checking out these related articles:

How to Pick Which Teachers to Ask for Letters of Recommendation

9 Rules for Requesting Letters of Recommendation from Teachers

What Makes a Good Recommendation Letter?

Should You Submit an Additional Letter of Recommendation?

A Step-by-Step Guide to Your Recommendation Letters

3. Complete all standardized testing.

While you will have opportunities to take your SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Tests in your Senior fall, it pays to wrap up this process as a Junior. You will want the time your Senior year to focus on essays and extracurricular activities.

Here are a few additional resources for those looking to wrap up their standardized testing by the end of their Junior year:

When Is the Best Time to Take the SAT?

SAT vs. ACT: Everything You Need to Know

ACT Score Range: What Is a Good ACT Score? A Bad ACT Score?

Why Should You Take SAT Subject Tests?

Complete List of SAT Subject Tests

4. Familiarize yourself with the Common App and begin brainstorming essay ideas.

The Common App allows you to build one application and send it to hundreds of schools. Filling out the form is fairly straightforward, and most sections take less than a half-hour to complete. You can create an account today, and the Common App will let you roll over any information you have submitted when the 2020-2021 application cycle opens in August.

Beginning this process early ensures that little details will not slip through the cracks. For example, one student of ours practiced piano for ten years but almost forgot to note that extracurricular on her application. Luckily, she had been updating the form for months, so when she remembered this important extracurricular activity, it was easy for her to log on and update her file.

Additionally, the Common App lets you start brainstorming essay ideas. We recommend keeping a journal or running Google Doc of ideas so that you have a plethora of good ideas to choose from once it is time to start writing your essays. For more on brainstorming essay topics and the Common App in general, check out these links:

A User’s Guide to the Common App

What Is a Personal College Essay?

How Important Is the College Essay?

Where to Begin? 3 Personal Essay Brainstorming Exercises

Why This Common App Essay Worked: Prompt 2: “The Lessons We Take…”

Want access to expert college guidance — for free? When you create your free CollegeVine account, you will find out your real admissions chances, build a best-fit school list, learn how to improve your profile, and get your questions answered by experts and peers—all for free. Sign up for your CollegeVine account today to get a boost on your college journey.

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University of Chicago 2019-20 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Regular Decision: 

University of Chicago 2019-20 Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: 2 essays of 1-2 pages each

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Why , Oddball

This is it, the infamous U Chicago supplemental application. These quirky prompts have been a rite of passage for generations of applicants. So before you dive in, just remember that if they could do it, so can you! Your goal in writing your Chicago extended essay should be the same as ever: to reveal something new to admissions. It might even help to have a few ideas in mind before reading through your options. These prompts are so specific and strange that, in the end, the key is just to follow your instincts. What speaks to you right away? What inspires you?

Respond to the required essay and choose one of the six extended essay options and upload a one- or two-page response.

Question 1 (required): how does the university of chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future please address with some specificity your own wishes and how they relate to uchicago..

Think of this run-of-the-mill why essay as the overture to your magnum opus (i.e. the Extended Essay). Chicago wants you to cover all the bases – “learning, community, and future” – so as with any why essay, you’d best buckle down and do your homework. The more specific details you can incorporate into your essay, the more sincere and personal it will feel (and be!). Explore both academic and extracurricular opportunities. How will you pursue your interest in oceanography? With a major in biology and a semester in Australia? What research opportunities will you pursue? Will joining the club crew team help you feel more connected to aquatic life despite your midwest location? One thing you won’t find on the school website, though, is that third piece, that “future” thing. Think about where you’d like to be five or ten years from now – your career or the impact you’d like to have or even just a geographic location. How will a U Chicago education help you get there? How will your scholarly and social pursuits help you grow? Show admissions how U Chicago is the bridge between the person you are and the person you hope to be.

Extended Essay (Choose 1)

Cats have nine lives, pac-man has 3 lives, and radioactive isotopes have half-lives. how many lives does something else—conceptual or actual—have, and why, —inspired by kedrick shin, class of 2019.

As you may have heard, the University of Chicago is notorious for its quirky, Oddball questions , and this first question is no exception! As you begin brainstorming for this prompt, remember that these questions are BEGGING for you to have fun with them. So roll up your sleeves, get your creative juices flowing, and start brainstorming!

For this prompt, we suggest that you think about things that possess partial or multiple lives: what does that idea bring up for you? Perhaps, after binge-watching the heroes in Edge of Tomorrow navigate slices of Space-Time, you began composing your own comic book about an arachnid-humanoid species tasked with daring feats of time travel. Maybe, after reading Siddartha over the summer, you became obsessed with the Hindu and Buddhist concept of reincarnation, and began researching cases of hypnotic regression. Whichever direction you choose to go with this, be sure to dig deep as you explain your thought process. After you finish writing, revisit the question again to ensure that you have fully answered it and addressed the “why” part of it. 

Remember, when it comes to all of these extended essay questions, you have OPTIONS! If any of the prompts does not make sense to you or speak to you, just keep going. You only have to choose ONE, so make sure it’s one that allows you to shine!

If there’s a limited amount of matter in the universe, how can Olive Garden (along with other restaurants and their concepts of food infinity) offer truly unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks? Explain this using any method of analysis you wish—physics, biology, economics, history, theology… the options, as you can tell, are endless.

—inspired by yoonseo lee, class of 2023.

Are Olive Garden’s resources finite or infinite? Can O.G. deliver on their promise of unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks, or is this just a rote marketing scam to attract more customers? 

There are countless ways to approach this question. Perhaps you want to analyze the question from an economical standpoint, explaining how customers have a finite amount of space in their stomach for soup, salad, or breadsticks just as each Olive Branch can only hold a limited number of customers. Or maybe, having learned about Georg Cantor’s diagonality proof in physics class, you want to argue the case for O.G.’s truly limitless resources. Perhaps your interest in the environment has prompted you to research theories of exhaustible resources that you can easily apply to this question.  Whichever direction you choose to go, make sure that you offer a unique, thoughtful argument backed up by concrete evidence. 

For students who love logic, philosophical debates, proofs, or paradoxes, this is a great question for you! Just remember, you are being given an excellent opportunity to show admissions not only how you reason, but also what subject matters–be it religion, philosophy, economics, or statistics–have shaped how you see the world. So take a stab at this question as you artfully guide admissions through your own unique argument!

A hot dog might be a sandwich, and cereal might be a soup, but is a ______ a ______?

—inspired by arya muralidharan, class of 2021 (and dozens of others who, this year and in past years, have submitted the question “is a hot dog a sandwich,” to which we reply, “maybe”).

Calling all puzzle makers and wordplay aficionados! What strange, silly questions do you find yourselves wondering about for hours on end? What paradoxes make you giggle to yourself (perhaps the sort that may not have seemed all that useful in your day-to-day life until this very question came along?)

Is a cell phone a drug? Is a sticky note doodle art? Is a sea anemone a plant? Is Cloud Atlas historical fiction? Is chess a sport? Is a thumb a finger? Is the United States a republic? 

This question welcomes playful, witty banter, revealing your capacity to explore categories and contradictions. The University of Chicago is asking you to be original, and show admissions you too can be cleverly inventive in your thinking.

You might start off here by thinking about the various subjects that interest or excite you: Are you passionate about religion, Corn Nuts, the snare drum, geography, nail art, or Comic-Con? How might you use the “But is ___ a _____?” model to allow you to dive deep into one of these subjects?

If an idea grabs you right away, then go ahead, fill in the blanks to craft an awesome riddle that will blow admissions away!

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” – Jessamyn West

—inspired by elizabeth mansfield, class of 2020.

This question asks you to take a deeper look at the relationship between truth and fiction. As with every Oddball question, you can go in so many different directions with this!

An easy entry point for this question might be to think of a recent novel, film, TV show, or work of art that left you thinking over a new idea, truth, or perspective. Did reading Don Dellilo’s Underworld make you aware of how our current obsession with celebrity has lulled us into a constant state of anxiety? Did watching Get Out haunt you with its nightmarish account of racial hypocrisy in America? 

More than just discussing a work of fiction that influenced you, this question is asking you to examine the very nature of art itself and think about the role that fiction plays in our lives.

Remember, you don’t have to be an aspiring novelist or fiction writer to answer this question. Anyone who loves thinking deeply about art’s relationship to life, and has good examples to back his or her opinions or theories, can truly ace this question!

UChicago has international campus centers around the world, but we don’t have any interplanetary, interstellar, or interdimensional campuses… yet! Propose a spot in time or space, in this or any universe, for a new UChicago campus. What types of courses would be taught at this site? What cultural experiences await students who study there?

—inspired by peter jasperse, class of 2022.

This question ALMOST comes across as serious until the moment you stumble upon the phrase “interplanetary, interstellar, or interdimensional.” At that point, the jig is up, and you see the true nature of this fun, wacky, science-nerd question!

A way to start brainstorming for this prompt is to answer this question: If you could travel anywhere in space or time, where would it be, and why? (If your answer is “Westeros,” you might want to think again for a locale–imaginary or real–that is not quite so popular!)

As with all of these prompts, this question gives you the opportunity to showcase a new passion or area of expertise. Maybe you are obsessed with science fiction, World War II history, astrology, or physics; whatever your interest may be, you can use this question, and your selection of a locale, to explore that area further. Perhaps, taking this in the “interdimensional” direction, you have always been fascinated by Columbus’s epic 1492 voyage and would love to station your campus in the Canary Islands in 1492-1493 so that students could learn about the beliefs, thoughts, and actions of the Native Americans who met Columbus and his crew. 

As you soar off to your fascinating, new UChicago campus, don’t forget to address ALL parts of the prompt, being sure to address the “courses” and “cultural experiences” pieces with creativity  and enthusiasm.

“Don’t be afraid to pick past prompts! I liked some of the ones from previous years more than those made newly available for my year. Also, don’t worry about the ‘correct’ way to interpret a question. If there exists a correct way to interpret the prompt I chose, it certainly was not my answer.”

—matthew lohrs, class of 2023, in the spirit of adventurous inquiry (and with the encouragement of one of our current students) choose one of our past prompts (or create a question of your own). be original, creative, thought provoking. draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the university of chicago; take a little risk, and have fun.

How lucky you are! Not only to you have prompts 1-5 to choose from, you also have ALL past prompts at your disposal as well as the freedom to invent your own prompt. Remember that all of these questions, as zany as they are, require you to think deeply as you showcase an area of interest or passion that you haven’t previously shown to admissions. Would the historical mash-up question allow you to discuss your passion for Eleanor Roosevelt in a memorable way? Would tackling the portal question give you the opportunity to describe the sci fi graphic novel series you are currently writing? 

So go on, comb through the questions from previous years (and feel free to write your own if you already have an idea brewing!). As soon as you find one that sparks your interest, get ready to wow admissions with your endless curiosity, originality, and passion!

About Kat Stubing

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college essay prompts 2019

2019-2020 College Application Essay Questions

Written by Megan Dorsey on June 18, 2019 . Posted in College Admission .

Start Working on College Essays

Work smarter, not harder, college application essay questions.

  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • 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.
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • 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?
  • 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. 

Coalition Application

  • Tell a story from your life, describing and experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
  • Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
  • Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
  • What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
  • Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

Apply Texas Application

Texas a&m university, university of texas at austin.

  • Why are you interested in the major you indicates as your first-choice major?
  • Leadership can be demonstrated in many ways. Please share how you have demonstrated leadership in either your school, job, community, and/or within your family responsibilities.
  • Please share how you believe your experiences, perspectives, and/or talents have shaped your ability to contribute to and enrich the learning environment at UT Austin, both in and out of the classroom.

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COMMENTS

  1. 2019-2020 Common App essay prompts

    The Common Application has announced that the 2019-2020 essay prompts will remain the same as the 2018-2019 essay prompts. Based on extensive counselor feedback, the existing essay prompts provide great flexibility for applicants to tell their unique stories in their own voice.

  2. 2019-2020 Common App Essay Prompts - College Transitions

    This well-worn idiom captures the mindset of the decision-makers at the Common Application who announced this January that the essay prompts for the upcoming 2019-20 admissions cycle will be the same as they were in 2018-2019. In the opinion of the College Transitions staff, the choice not to tinker was a wise one.

  3. Guide to the 2019-20 Coalition Application Essay Prompts

    Prompt #5: Submit an essay on a topic of your choice. For many students, this catch-all prompt is a gift. Obviously, any essay you write will meet the requirement of this prompt, so if you have already begun brainstorming with the Common App topics in mind, fear not; this Coalition prompt has you covered. That said, if you are approaching the ...

  4. 2,000+ College Essay Prompts for 2023-24 and How-To Guides

    Latest essay prompts for the top 100 schools. At CollegeVine, our goal is to make the college application process a little less stressful, so we’ve compiled the latest essay prompts for the top 100 schools in one easy, searchable database. Also, every year we create free guides on “How to Write X School’s Essays” for the top 100 schools ...

  5. The 2021-22 Common Application Essay Prompts - ThoughtCo

    The current prompts are the result of much discussion and debate from the member institutions who use the Common Application. The essay length limit stands at 650 words (the minimum is 250 words), and students will need to choose from the seven options below. The essay prompts are designed to encourage reflection and introspection.

  6. Popular Application Essay Topics | Apply | The Princeton Review

    2023–24 Common App Essays. Nearly 700 colleges accept the The Common Application , which makes it easy to apply to multiple schools with just one form. If you are using the Common App to apply for college admissions, you will have 250–650 words to respond to ONE of the following prompts: Some students have a background, identity, interest ...

  7. The 2020-2021 Common Application Essay Prompts Are Here

    The Common Application has just announced that the essay prompts will be the same as those used in 2019-2020. Every cycle, the Common App offers six prompts that students can use to brainstorm great essay topics. There is also a seventh prompt to write on any topic of your choosing. New to college applications?

  8. 2019-20 University of Chicago Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

    University of Chicago 2019-20 Application Essay Question Explanations. The Requirements: 2 essays of 1-2 pages each. Supplemental Essay Type (s): Why, Oddball. This is it, the infamous U Chicago supplemental application. These quirky prompts have been a rite of passage for generations of applicants. So before you dive in, just remember that if ...

  9. 2019-2020 College Application Essay Questions

    Now is the time for rising seniors to start working on college admissions essays! While most applications won’t open for the 2019-2020 season until August 1, the essay prompts for this year are available. Students can (and should) write the required essays for the Common App, Coalition Application, or Apply Texas app now.

  10. College Essays 101: How to Answer the 2019-20 Common App ...

    As you read through the different essay prompts, you’ll probably have one or two that stick out or resonate with you. Take note of any prompts that spark something in you, so you have less to narrow down later. Read more about the 19-20 essay prompts below: 1. Telling your personal story.