February 19, 2013

Common Application Essay Changes for 2013-14

In 2010, the University of Pennsylvania shocked applicants when it removed its decades-old “Write page 217 of your 300-page autobiography” from its supplement. Although many schools maintain a traditional approach to the essays on their supplements for years, others often revisit and revise their essay prompts. For example, every year, the University of Chicago changes its prompts, based on submissions of creative and unique ideas from members of the college community.

It’s refreshing that the Common Application has unveiled substantial changes in its instructions and prompts for the 2013-2014 application. The word count has been raised from a maximum of 500 words to 650, and the popular but nebulous “topic of your choice” has been eliminated. The choices that remain are challenging, requiring careful introspection, planning, and development of an essay that not only should have a theme but clarity and structure as well.

The Common Application website already has given applicants a preview of CA4’s questions. The instructions, which clearly set out the goals of the assignment, read:

The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and 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.)

The new prompts demand some serious decision-making, but they are intriguing and should be approached with eagerness! They are:

  • 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.

Keep in mind that this essay is not the only opportunity to give the admissions officers a good understanding of what makes you tick! There will still be the short essay on an activity, volunteer or work experience as well as the often overlooked “Additional Information” section which allows the applicant to discuss qualifications or special circumstances that should be taken into consideration. The College Essay Whiz will gladly provide advice and assistance in all of these areas!

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