What You Should Know About The 2016-17 Common App Essay Prompts

The Common Application has released it's 5 essay prompts for 2016... we've got the details and the inside scoop on how students should approach each question.

Student Working On Her Common App

The Common Application recently announced its eagerly anticipated 2016-2017 essay prompts, and guess what… they’re the same as last year!

Since it’s possible (nay, understandable!) that you didn’t have your ear to the ground about Common Application prompts a full year before it was time to prepare your college applications, let’s take a tour through this ubiquitous buzzword that is “your Common App.”

What Is The Common Application?

The Common Application is a college application used by over 600 member colleges. In short, it’s like your “multipass” that can take you many places —chances are, more than one school on your list will use the Common App, or possibly, all of them.

And this is great news for you, because it means you don’t need to repeat the same info over and over for different college applications.


What kind of “info” are we talking about?

Let’s break it down:

Personal Info: Name? B-day? Home address?

Difficulty Level—Easy Peasy. You can type this out once you’ve created your account online.

Family Info: This will ask your folks’ info, such as level of education achieved (i.e. high school; associate’s degree; bachelor’s degree, etc…)

Difficulty LevelPretty Easy. This just requires planning ahead to find a good time to ask your parents about their background if you don’t already know (and it never hurts to double-check!). Hint: don’t wait till 11:30 of the night before the app is due and go wake them up to ask about their educational history… they will probably not appreciate that.)

Scores n’ Grades:

This is where you’ll input GPA, AP and SAT/ACT scores, and any current courses you’re taking that aren’t on your official transcript at the time of submission. IMPORTANT: you’ll also have to send official copies of test scores to your selected schools through the collegeboard.org or ACT website, and your high school must send official transcripts to your target colleges.

Difficulty Level—Intermediate. You need to plan AHEAD to sign up for your standardized tests, (the SAT, SAT II subject tests and ACT test), and request your transcripts from you high school so you can input that info into your app. (And side note—just inputting this info into the common app isn’t the end of the story—you need to have official copies sent to your target schools, and if they don’t process in time… well, let’s put it this way, it’s not your high school’s fault).

Activities List And Awards:

It’s resume time! Since you’re not going for a Project Manager role at Google, this probably won’t look like a “professional” resume, per se, but what it DOES have in common with a killer professional resume?

  • It’s detailed.
  • It’s pithy and error-free.
  • It highlights your greatest achievements.

Difficulty levelIntermediate/Advanced. Luckily, you’ve already done the hard part by succeeding throughout high school—you’re just presenting what you’ve done! But you definitely need to take time to make sure you’re showing off how much time you’ve invested in your activities, the leadership you demonstrated (whether that’s stage managing the spring musical or being captain of the JV soccer team), and explaining your activity if it’s a less-than-common (such as “professional zombie hunter”—we’ll need some background info on that….)

Additional Info:

You may or may not have to complete this section. For instance, if you’ve undergone disciplinary action that will show up on your high school record, now is the time to explain the circumstances.

And finally (drumroll please)…..


We might be biased, but this is our favorite part of the Common App at Admissionado.

The Common App personal statement—this is the MAIN attraction for your essays. You have a great chance to share a story or ideas that are important to you, and you feel help the adcom get a better sense of who you are!

Activity essayThis is a very short (~50 word) essay where you can provide some more detail about one of the activities you mention in your app.

Supplemental essaysDepending on the schools you apply to, they may request you write essays specific to their program. These are usually VERY short, and ask you to answer a deceptively challenging question: “why THIS school?” So you’ll need to show off all the research you’ve done about the program, and show how you’ll pursue your interests while you’re there.

Difficulty levelMaster. These cannot be done overnight. Repeat. These CANNOT be done overnight. To craft a compelling and illuminating common app essay, you need time to mull over different story ideas, do some free-writing, revise, and ensure the final draft is spotless.

So, now what? Well, you can check out the actual questions below, and better yet, get the inside scoop on how to approach each in our Essay Analysis Section. And don’t stop there, we’ve got analyses for additional supplemental, optional and short answer essays for schools like Brown, Stanford and Yale, just to name a few.

2016-2017 Common App Essay #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.

Read the analysis.

2016-2017 Common App Essay #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?

Read the analysis.

2016-2017 Common App Essay #3

Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

Read the analysis.

2016-2017 Common App Essay #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.

Read the analysis.

2016-2017 Common App Essay #5

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Read the analysis.

Check out more college essay analysis, school guides and additional resources to help your students prepare for the college application process.

Need some help with a college application? That’s what we’re here for!

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