This is a guest blog post written by our friends at Admitster. They work to help level the college admissions playing field by guiding students and parents through the complex world of college admissions, offering free online tools and affordable advising and tutoring services along the way. We encourage you to learn more about Admitster and check out the original post!

Dear Readers – and particularly those of you who are currently high school juniors – The Common Application 2016-2017 Essay Prompts have been released! Don’t let this news stress you out. See it as an opportunity, knowing that if you start to think about* your college essays now that it will be that much easier a process submitting your college applications next fall and winter. First of all, the essay prompts are (drum roll please…) the same as the 2015-2016 prompts!


  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.

Now, you have a decision to make – which essay prompt should you choose?

This depends on a few things.

First of all, keep in mind that the essay is your chance to add new information to your application, and for admissions officers to hear your unique voice through your writing. This being the case, don’t use the essay to simply rehash information that is already in your application. Rather, your essay should tell a personal story, and that story should be told using the first person “I”. Read over the five essay prompt possibilities and think about which one will allow you to contribute the most to your existing application.

Furthermore, if you are applying to a top-tier school then your essay should show admissions officers that you have intellectual curiosity. As a starting point, think about a time when you were really excited about something you read about or experienced (and it doesn’t necessarily have to be something you learned in school), and then write about how you further pursued that intellectual passion or curiosity! Also, if you feel that any of these attributes apply to you, highlighting personal examples of leadershipgrit, and/or sustained community engagement is likely to impress admissions officers.

Some more food for thought? Well, you know how you keep hearing about how you should have your uniqueness shine through in your application (e.g. “That’s what I see, is that uniqueness is kind of the hidden currency of college admissions“)? Well, The Common Application very helpfully lets us know statistics for how many students have so far responded to each of the essay prompts during the 2015-2016 round of college admissions:

“Among the more than 800,000 unique applicants who have submitted a Common App so far during the 2015-2016 application cycle, 47% have chosen to write about their background, identity, interest, or talent – making it the most frequently selected prompt; 22% have chosen to write about an accomplishment, 17% about a lesson or failure, 10% about a problem solved, and 4% about an idea challenged.”

Hmmm, interesting.  Take a second to put yourself in the shoes of the admissions officers – if almost every other essay you’ve read is about a student’s “background, identity, interest, or talent”, wouldn’t it be a breath of fresh air to have in your hands an essay by a student writing about challenging a belief or idea? If these admissions trends hold true for the 2016-2017 admissions cycle, and if it were me submitting my college applications, I would think very carefully about whether I could write a great essay using prompt #3. I’m just saying…

Finally, this pearl of wisdom:

No matter which of the essay prompts you decide to answer (and you should choose the one that works best for you, personally) BE SURE TO ANSWER THE QUESTION! When I worked in admissions I read many, many application essays, and I can tell you this: you’d be shocked to know how many students write brilliant essays but don’t answer the question being asked! It may sound obvious, but be sure to triple check, prior to submission, that the question being asked in the prompt has indeed been answered. It’s a mistake too-often-made, and one that is easily avoidable.

If you’d like to learn more about tips and strategies for writing a great college essay (including prompt-specific advice and guidance tailored for the specific schools to which you’re applying), and for invaluable overall guidance and feedback on your essay drafts, click here. Our experts work with you to ensure that your essay tells your unique story, is well organized and error-free, and that your writing is catered specifically to your specific situation. Happy writing!

* You’re a high school junior so there’s no need to actually start writing your college essay yet. However, some great advice from Rachel Katzman, Admitster’s Director of Education, is as follows:

“One thing I’ve been coaching my students towards is not necessarily working on writing their common application essay too early in the process, but rather finding a means of capturing or documenting stories or experiences they might want to share or explore now, so that they have material for later. For example, students could keep a journal of their experiences with a community service project or internship. Think of it as a ‘soft launching pad’ for ideas – developing an awareness of the experiences they’re having now and how they’re affected by them can be crucial information for students to have when they do sit down to write their first college essay drafts down the road.”