Common Application Announces New Essay Prompts and Guidelines

February 11, 2013

To help better meet student needs, The Common Application, a standard college application form accepted by more than 400 colleges and universities, will contain revised essay questions and a new maximum word count for 2013-2014. The new questions were announced Feb. 5, a month earlier than planned, a PR Newswire press release noted.

The goal of the new questions and early disclosure, the press release noted, is to provide underserved, particularly economically disadvantaged students with an equal opportunity as their peers in the college application process. According to the press release, the essay portion of the Common Application may have kept academically qualified, but economically challenged students from applying to colleges they could get into.

The application changes were made "to ensure that all applicants, regardless of their background or access to counseling, have the chance to tell their unique stories," stated the nonprofit organization behind the application form, Common Application Inc.

One controversial change is the elimination of the essay prompt that allows applicants to write on a topic of their choice, The Washington Post reported. Also, the maximum word count has increased from 500 to 650 words. The minimum word count remains the same, at 250. The Personal Essay section now will be completed online.

Students who use The Common App can send it to 488 colleges in 46 states, as well as certain foreign countries, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The new essay prompts students can choose from 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."

To help high school students with the application, particularly the essay questions, a non-profit organization called Story To College is offering two resources: a "Guide to the 2013 Common Application (CA4)" e-book and a free webinar about the process for parents, PR Newswire indicated. Story To College is a community of students, parents and schools that teaches high school students how to tell their stories effectively for applications and interviews.

"We do not write or edit students' essays," Dr. Carol Barash, Story To College's founder and CEO, said in the PR Newswire Press Release. "We teach students the tools and the confidence to do the work themselves."

Compiled by Doresa Banning


"CA4: New Look, Same Mission," commonapp.org, February 5, 2013, The Common Application

"Common Application changes college essays for 2013-14," washingtonpost.com, February 8, 2013, Valerie Strauss

"Common App Releases New Essay Prompts," usnewsuniversitydirectory.com, February 6, 2013, Catherine Groux

"New Common Application Essay Questions Emphasize Students' Unique Stories And Voice," prnewswire.com, February 8, 2013

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