Recently, the Common Application released its new essay prompts for the 2013-14 college admission cycle. The college essay questions are focused and clear and will not stifle your creativity. Your job will not be any more difficult – and it will not be any easier.
The biggest change we see is that the short answer prompt is gone. That means colleges that still want the short answer question (basically asking students to elaborate on an extracurricular activity in about 150 words) will likely add it as a supplement.
Writing-wise, not much has changed. The new essay questions are not that different from the previous ones. More focused? Yes. New versions of the old familiar questions? Yes. They are good questions with better instructions. As a company that teaches people how to write, we don’t get too worked up about questions. No matter what the prompt, colleges want to know the same thing: What happened? Why does it matter?
What you have to say is far more important than the prompt or word count. Make colleges like you; make them want to know more about you. Wow them with your college application essay!
Here are the instructions: 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.)
Here are the new questions:
- 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.
Before you being writing, think what colleges know about you already from your application, including grades, test scores and activities. Then consider what else you want them to know: What is special about you? What kind of person are you? Once that is clear, select a question, and then find a story to illustrate your message. If you know what you want the college to know about you, it does not matter what the question is, and it certainly does not matter what the formatting requirements and word limits are.
At Wow, nothing would make us smile more than a story written by you that is genuine, reflective and shows us something meaningful. Colleges tell us the same thing. They want to read your admissions essay and feel good. You can do that with a story about success, or a story about a challenge. What you learned from the experience is most important.
It’s your story. Your voice. Your words.
We are confident you can write a story in 250, 500 or 650 words. In two decades, we’ve never seen an essay compromised because a student needed to trim a story to meet a word limit.
Meanwhile, you are lucky to get the questions now. You will be able to get started on your essays a lot earlier than last year’s class.
Kim Lifton is president of Wow Writing Workshop, which teaches students how to write compelling college admissions essays using a proprietary 10-step Wow Method. Check out Wow Online – College Essay to learn more about the new self-guided tutorial for college application writing. Wow also teaches ACT writing prep courses throughout metro Detroit.